EXPLOSIONS were heard as a huge fire ripped through an old cinema.

The blaze, which destroyed the 1930s art deco Regent Cinema in Lyme Regis led to part of the town being closed off and people warned to stay indoors due to asbestos in the building.

Smoke and flames were seen for miles as the fire took hold and led to the roof of the listed building in Broad Street collapsing. It is thought the fire on Tuesday started accidentally.

Around 50 firefighters from across Dorset, Devon and Somerset were involved in tackling the blaze. Due to the collapse it meant crews could only fight the fire from outside, battling to prevent it spreading to neighbouring buildings. No-one was injured.

Woodmead Halls was opened in case of evacuation of nearby flats.

Broad Street is the main thoroughfare (A3052) through Lyme and it was closed as the incident was dealt with.

Flames had been spotted coming from the building since 1.20pm.

Speaking at the scene, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service area commander Craig Baker said: “We have eight fire engines plus our hydraulic platform and a water carried.

“There is a slight risk of asbestos in the roof tiles so we are taking precautions.”

Amy Schwartz said she could hear “the occasional big boom and black smoke”.

She had been on the beach when she heard explosions and said: “I heard banging. It sounded a bit like fireworks.”

Tom White, who was at the skate park, said: “It all happened quickly, but the firefighters were there quite fast.

“I thought it was a bonfire then the smoke got blacker and the flames started engulfing the roof and you could hear loud cracks.”

People living adjacent to the cinema were evacuated due to structural concerns.

A spokesman from First Dorset said that bus routes had been affected by the blaze, adding: “A fire is currently being dealt with at Lyme Regis's cinema. As a result, emergency services have closed off both ends of the main thoroughfare through the town.

“Routes X51 and X53 are currently on diversion via Charmouth roundabout and Hunters Lodge.

“Please bear with us until it is safe for our services to resume through the town again.”

Dorset Fire and Rescue ssued this statement on Tuesday afternoon.

"Crews from across Dorset, Devon and Somerset are currently tackling a serious fire at the Regent Cinema in Lyme Regis.

Dorset Fire & Rescue Service was called at 1.20pm and found a well developed fire engulfing the roof of the 1930s Art Deco building.

Eight fire crews are tackling the blaze – from Lyme Regis, Axminster, Chard (two), Bridport (two), Seaton and Colyton – supported by an aerial appliance from Taunton, a water carrier from Bridport and a breathing apparatus support unit from Maiden Newton.

The roof of the listed building has already collapsed and firefighters can only attack the flames from outside as a result.

Staff working at the cinema when the fire started are reported to be safe, as are the occupants of the shop within the same premises. The blaze has not affected adjacent buildings, with firefighters focusing much of their efforts on protecting these from the flames.

Because of the complexity of the firefighting operation, a safety cordon has been put into place, which means that shops in the immediate vicinity have closed.

While the significant smoke plume continues to rise from the site, anyone in Lyme Regis who has a pre-existing respiratory condition is advised to keep doors and windows shut as a precaution."

Resident Rosemary Bowler said: "It is a fabulous cinema and I cannot believe what has happened.

"They have just had a major refurbishment and it's a beautiful art-deco building.

"The cinema is central to the town and is well used. I'm often at the cinema club on Sunday evenings and it is always busy. 

Terry Lewis, lives next door to the cinema on Pound Lane. He said:"I was at work in Axminster when I received calls telling me what had happened.

"I've been told I can't go back into my property because one of the walls that borders my property is at risk of collapse, according to the firefighters.

"I've also heard that pieces of the building have fallen into the Hix Freehouse so they have been evacuated."