SCORES of fire-fighters were tonight battling a major blaze in Basingstoke.

Residents had to be evacuated from their homes after a fire broke out on a site in Gershwin Road, in Brighton Hill, at about 6.30pm at the site of the former Beech Down Primary School.

A shroud of black smoke and 30 foot flames spiralled into the air as the fire took hold at the site where sheltered housing for the elderly is being built.

People living in nearby Quilter Road had to leave their homes for their own safety while the area was cordoned off.

Steve Rose, 44, of Quilter Road, said: “I just had my dinner and I was putting the dishes in the dishwasher when I smelled burning and it got really dark.”

Stuart Campbell-Smith, 50, of Chopin Road, was coming back from shopping in Andover when he saw the drama on the horizon.

He said: “There was big flames in the distance. It looked like it was coming from Down Grange and as I got closer I realised it was near my house and I could see all the fire engines.

“There was a crowd at about 7pm of least 200 people by the cordon.”