GUESTS have tonight told of the dramatic moment when they fled a burning hotel in Southampton today moments before it was rocked by an explosion.

Couples and families rushed from their rooms after the fire broke out in the Hilton Hotel in Chilworth at 11.16am.

Daily Echo:

The 44 guests and staff crowded into the car park as thick black smoke poured from the luxury hotel as the blaze took hold in its leisure suite.

Just moments later a blast tore through the back of the building as the first of 55 fire-fighters arrived to battle the inferno which started in the sauna.

The suite sustained severe damage in the fire and explosion, but the blaze did not spread to other parts of the hotel.

Two members of hotel staff suffered smoke inhalation and were treated by paramedics at the scene.

But tonight shocked guests are still unable to return to their rooms to collect their belongings as fire crews continue investigations into the cause of the blaze.

They have sealed off the building which is being guarded by police and hotel staff are turning back those on foot and in cars from the entrance.

Those still in limbo include the Lincoln City FC team whose match with Eastleigh FC at the Silverlake Stadium was postponed as the visitors were unable to return to their rooms to collect their kits.

Daily Echo:

Tony Quinn (see below) had just arrived at his fifth-floor room when the alarms sounded this morning.

The 56-year-old checked in after a 17-hour flight to Britain from Singapore for a business trip and was in the bath when he heard sirens wailing.

He said: “I thought it was a test at first but when I got dressed and came out into the hall there was billowing smoke coming from the lift shaft.

“I came out of the fire escape and everyone was in the car park and there were three fire engines and fire-fighters everywhere.”

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Alex Dunsmuir, 55 (see above) had just been returning from breakfast and was preparing to go into town for the day.

Mr Dunsmuir, from Cumnock in Ayrshire, who is visiting the city ahead of a cruise to Belgium on the Aurora tomorrow, said: “My initial thought was it wasn't a real call.

“Most people were quite calm coming out but I saw a young couple and the woman was in tears.

“The staff were giving some of the people silver blankets to keep them warm.

“The main thing is people aren't hurt or injured.”

Meanwhile a queue of cars remains parked up in neighbouring Bracken Place as people waiting to check in this afternoon were turned away by hotel staff.

Daily Echo:

Malcolm Brown (pictured above with wife Margaret) is among those who have waited since 1pm after driving from Cannock in Staffordshire.

Mr Brown, 56, is due to go on a cruise with his wife and the couple are being told they have to stay in the Hilton's sister hotel in Basingstoke.

He said: “It has ruined our holiday before it has even began.

“We've been waiting because the police turned us away.

“But nobody came out to tell us what was happening until 2.20pm.”

Daily Echo:

Pam Gollop and partner Alisdair Holdsworth are living in the hotel with sons Liam, nine (pictured above) and Jordan, 16, while repairs are made on their house in Romsey.

They arrived back at around 2pm to find the entrance blocked.

She said: “We've had so many problems with housing.

“The whole experience has been a nightmare and now this.

“You can't really make it up.

“We don't know when we will be allowed back in.”

Meanwhile Jenny Williams from Chandlers Ford was close to tears after arriving ahead of her 50th birthday party booked at the hotel tonight where she is expecting 80 friends and family.

Husband Gary said: “She will be devastated if it doesn't go ahead.

“We've been planning it the whole of this year and people are coming from all over the country.”

Daily Echo:

Eight pumps from St Mary's, Hightown, Redbridge, Romsey, Eastleigh, Hamble and Fareham and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service dogs have been deployed.

Ambulances and police have also been arriving on the scene.

Brigade group manager Mark Raven said the service had been called to a “severe blaze” and added: “Subsequently there was an explosion and crews fought very hard to protect the building.

“It caused extensive damage to the rear of the property. It was a sizable explosion."

He added: “Due to the complexity of the building it took us a long time to deal with the fire. We are clearing out smoke from the building and we are starting an investigation.”

All the guests were evacuated but no-one was hurt. Two guests were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by South Central Ambulance.

Currently teams from Scottish and Southern Energy are at the site as fire-fighters begin clearing away debris. Management of the hotel and staff have been waiting in the car park and helping with investigations.

The four star hotel is set within a wooded landscape, offering à la carte cuisine at the restaurant plus a 13-meter indoor pool, steam room and sauna where the fire is thought to have started.

The 44 guests and staff who were evacuated have been moved to Chilworth Manor Hotel.

A statement released from Hilton Southampton later said: “We can confirm that at 11am a small fire was detected in the sauna of the Living Well Health Club facility.

“The fire brigade was called immediately and the fire was quickly brought under control - with no injuries reported.

“The safety and security of our guests and team members is our utmost priority and all were evacuated from the building and subsequently moved to a local hotel - where we are currently offering any assistance required.

“We would like to thank our guests for their understanding and cooperation throughout this period.”

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