THOUSANDS of Eastleigh residents living around the warehouse blaze were being told to keep their windows and doors firmly closed as a potentially poisonous cloud hung over the town.

The warning came hours after the town suddenly became the centre of one of the biggest fire dramas ever seen in Eastleigh.

At 11.46am yesterday the town came to a standstill as the massive blaze ripped through the giant warehouse.

Pedestrians were stopped in their tracks and cars came to standstill as the huge blanket of smoke threatened to engulf the whole town.

Police messages were broadcast on local radio for motorists to avoid the area around Chickenhall Lane, Bishopstoke, as fire engines poured into the Tower Lane Industrial Estate.

Around the town people in shops, offices and homes were reaching for their phones to find out what the mystery cloud of smoke was all about.

At the best of times the Chicken-hall Lane area is a notorious bottleneck and it was not long before huge tailbacks built up over the railway bridge approaching the town centre.

By now an army of sightseers had filled every vantage point on the Bishopstoke bridge to grab every possible opportunity to see the midday drama unfolding.

Police wearing breathing masks manned posts to divert traffic away from the industrial estate where workers were evacuated from the blazing warehouse just as the roof was caving in.

There was speculation that flights from the nearby Southampton International Airport might have to be suspended as the airwaves became thicker and thicker with smoke.

There was no disruption to the airport timetable although a spokesman said they were monitoring the situation and keeping in close contact with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The scene of the fire is also very close to the main railway line which takes tens of thousands of commuters to London Waterloo. Despite the black cloud hovering nearby there was no threat to the railway network.

A spokesman for South West Trains said that there was no disruption to services.

A fire brigade spokesman said that they were able to keep open roads, rail and air links. So normal life in Eastleigh was able to carry on while the massive firefighting operation continued.

The industrial estate is some distance away from Bishopstoke's built-up residential area and there was no need for any homes to be evacuated.

But environmental health experts from Eastleigh were drafted in to the scene and were closely monitoring any pollution effects.

Although there was no real danger, residents were advised that it would be prudent for them to keep their windows and doors closed overnight.

It was expected that it would take hours for the fire to burn out and the smoke to drift away. But the rain was helping with the damping down process.

Hampshire police issued a "close windows and doors" warning in the wake of the Eastleigh blaze.

A spokesman said: "As a precautionary measure in the wake of the Eastleigh warehouse fire, residents of some neighbouring areas are being advised to keep doors and windows closed.

"The areas concerned are Bishopstoke, Fair Oak and Bishop's Waltham."

Environmental health officers had expressed concerns about the composition of the warehouse roof which is believed to contain a small amount of asbestos, although that was later ruled out.

Police pointed out that the threat was very low but advised people to take precautions.