A FIRE that tore through buildings at a Hampshire equestrian centre was just inches away from exploding.

Crews from all over the county raced to Shedfield Equestrian Centre early yesterday morning after a generator became ablaze.

Destroying a caravan home, antique vehicles and outbuildings, crews spent hours battling the fire that was inches from igniting a propane gas cylinder.

Thirty-five firefighters, police and ambulance staff rushed to the scene on Botley Road just after 6.30am.

They were faced with sky-high flames that had completely destroyed a caravan, an outbuilding and an exhibition milk float that its owners said had been valued at £10,000.

Incident commander Rob Sansome said the large fire was almost made a lot worse as crews attempted to keep the gas propane tank cool as the flames got closer.

He said: “We had firefighters keeping a hose on the tank at all times. If it reaches a certain temperature, it would explode and it would have made matters a lot worse.

“The caravan was completely destroyed, and getting water down to the scene was difficult as there are no nearby hydrants.

“We were faced with the fire in a farm outbuilding which then spread to the caravan. The time of call came at 6.44am.”

Engines from Botley, Wickham, Fareham and Hightown attended.

Workers at the centre told how the fire began after refuelling the generator just before 6.30am.

Staff member Gregorz Gutmanski said he filled the generator up, went to make a cup of tea in a neighbouring outbuilding, and came outside to see the building on fire.

Christopher Collins has owned the centre for the past 40 years.

The 76-year-old said it would have been disastrous had the tank exploded.

He said: “I’ve never seen anything like this. That tank there, it’s full. Luckily the others aren’t. It would have been disastrous if that had gone up in flames.

“This is the one morning I wasn’t down here early and I came down and the firefighters were doing a great job and had almost beaten it.

“Every day Gregorz is here and he makes his cup of tea. He filled up the tank, went to the green shed behind and put the kettle on. Next thing he phones the fire service after seeing the huge flames.

“When I got down here everything was destroyed, there’s nothing left of it now.”

No horses were injured in the fire, with the animals being kept further towards the entrance to the centre.