BOSSES at one of the South's biggest sawmills have spent this week working on plans to get plant and machinery back into action after a devastating fire which may have started by accident.

Smoke was spotted at the mill of RF Giddings at Bartley at around 5pm on Saturday and within a short time, the main sawmill was an inferno.

More than 80 firefighters from across Hampshire dashed to the scene and fought for more than five hours to bring the blaze under control and prevent it from reaching other parts of the complex.

But they stayed at the site through the night and into Sunday in order to prevent it from breaking out again.

At the height of the fire, a gas canister exploded and sent flames shooting from the roof of the steel shed

The mill and its fencing panel production unit has been built up by the Giddings family into one of the most modern and successful in the south. Director, Robert Giddings, said: "It has, of course, been very upsetting for the family."

He added that it was too early to say what the cost of the damage would amount to or what impact it would have on business.

But it was staying open, particularly as buildings which housed such things as wood treatment and fence and gate production had not been affected by the fire.

After the discovery of the blaze, police said arson had not been ruled out. But following an investigation by experts from the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, the signs pointed to an accidental cause.

Assistant Divisional Officer Dave Lock explained that sparks, possibly from welding equipment, may have become embedded in wood chippings .

He said: "There were some hot works carried out in the morning of Saturday.

"In the afternoon, everyone left the site but some of the sparks from either cutting or welding equipment may have landed on some wood cuttings and, unseen, continued to smoulder until they ignited after everyone had gone."

The fire comes seven years after members of the family were injured in a terrorist bomb blast at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa.

Tony Giddings, the company's financial director, and his daughter Laura and son Jacob were among more than 20 people injured.