Blaze leaves Westbourne without a post office

FIRE Firefighters at the shop. Picture: Kate Shemilt
FIRE Firefighters at the shop. Picture: Kate Shemilt
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VILLAGERS have been left without a post office and their main convenience store after fire ravaged a listed building.

Fire investigation teams are piecing together what caused the blaze at the Co-op store in The Square, Westbourne.

Fire engines and police cars descended on the historic centre after flames ripped through the store, which also houses the village post office.

The fire started in a ground floor store room at the back of the shop at about 8.30am today and quickly spread to the roof.

The shop was evacuated and all members of staff and customers were out by the time emergency services arrived.

A large plume of thick black smoke could be seen for miles as firefighters tackled the blaze, which was out by 10.30am.

Crews from Havant and Chichester tackled the fire using breathing apparatus.

Fans were used to clear the smoke.

The fire has caused severe damage to the shop and all its stock has been smoke-damaged.

Ted Merdler, head of communications at The Southern Co-operative, based in Portsmouth, said: ‘There were customers and our colleagues in the shop and we are very proud of their reaction.

‘They got everybody out very quickly and no-one was hurt.

‘The store is severely damaged.

‘We don’t know the cause yet.

‘We will be trying to re-open as rapidly as possible. At this stage we have not been able to examine the building.’

The store is a lifeline to the elderly in the area and the Co-op is laying on a shuttle service to Emsworth every hour from 9am to 5pm.

There will be a half hourly return service to Westbourne from 9.30pm to 5.30pm.

Val Owen, chairman of Westbourne Parish Council, said the fire was a blow to villagers.

She said: ‘It’s a very well-used shop and it will be missed.

‘I believe the shop only won an award last week.

‘It will cause problems for older people getting their pensions.’

The Square has historical interest as it was the site of an old market until the 17th century.