RATS could have been behind a fire that ended up engulfing six vehicles.

Fire investigators have concluded that the most likely cause of the fire that gutted three coaches and three minibuses at an operations centre in Hedge End was a spark from an electrical fault.

But a fire service spokesman added that investigators believe this could have been as the result of “possible rodent interference”, meaning that mice or rats might have chewed through wires.

“It’s not unheard of – certainly rodents and animals chewing through things have caused us issues in the past,” said the spokesman. “For it to have caused this much devastation, they have been pretty unlucky.”

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze, which involved vehicles belonging to South-ampton-based coach hire company Barfoot and Sons, at around 5.45pm on Saturday at the operations centre for trucks, buses and coaches off Upper Northam Drive.

Residents described seeing flames reach 40ft high and hearing explosions as the fire spread from one vehicle to the next.

Firefighters spent four hours tacking the fire and investigators concluded it was accidental and there were no suspicious circumstances.

The six destroyed vehicles make up more than half of the company’s 11-strong fleet.

Steve Barfoot, director of the small family coach and minibus hire firm, said he was very surprised to hear that might be the cause.

“If that’s the cause I would be quite frustrated that such a small animal caused so much damage and devastation.”

He confirmed that the damage would certainly cost tens of thousands of pounds though could not estimate a figure and expected to speak to his insurance company later in the week.

Mr Barfoot reiterated that the company provides purely a private hire service and had no contracts with schools so would not be letting any schools or local authorities down.

He added that in the short term they could meet their commitments until decisions could be made about replacing the buses.

“Hopefully we’ll bounce back, I don’t see any reason why we can’t,” he said.