A devastating fire tore through the Grade II* listed Battersea Arts Centre this afternoon.

Wandsworth Times:

Blazing: The roof on fire in Battersea this afternoon (PC Ben Perkins)

The old Victorian town hall, in Lavender Hill, was coming to the end of a £13.3m restoration projectstarted in 2006.

Thick clouds of smoke could be seen across London, billowing into the sky.

No one was injured in the blaze, but one woman was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

People could be seen crying in the streets while 80 fire fighters brought the flames under control. The emergency services evacuated people from neighbouring homes and businesses.

Witnesses described the heartbreaking scenes near Clapham Junction station this afternoon.

Frederic Perhirin who works in the restaurant Donna Margherita, opposite the centre, said: “The back part of the Battersea Arts Centre just came down, the back building, the last building, so they are just trying to put out the fire at the moment."

John Paul Cherrington, a Labour volunteer working in the party’s Battersea branch office which is opposite the centre, said: “The flames are higher than the roof of the arts centre.

“It started at the back of the centre where there some repair work and scaffolding. The scaffolding was about two or three stories high and has collapsed into the building.

“They’ve got a ladder and they’re pouring huge streams of water onto it but the flames are still quite high.

“It’s terrible. It’s such a beautiful building. There’s no way of getting any information, you just hope everybody is safe.

“The road is completely closed – there’s going to be huge traffic problems. It’s going to be a disaster for people getting home.”

A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said: “We have got eight fire engines there. We were called just after 4.15pm."

Wandsworth Times:

Plumes of smoke: The fire could be seen across south west London (Photo by Simon Wiseman)

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We were first called at 4.30pm and sent an ambulance crew, a duty officer and our hazardous area response team to the scene."

The spokesman added paramedics were still at the ongoing incident.

Annie Davies, who lives nearby and first saw the blaze from her roof terrace, said: “A huge bit has fallen down and there is about seven fire engines there trying to put the fire out. I got worried at one stage it was just going to fall in the street.

“I haven’t heard anything but I think everyone has been evacuated. It is still properly blazing.

“Fire engines have the ladders extended and the firemen are above it throwing water downwards.

“There are people everywhere. I heard the noise of it collapsing, it was that loud.”

Wandsworth Times:

Bystanders: People gathered to watch the fire tear through the historic building 

Two aerial appliances - similar to cherry pickers - are fighting the fire from above.

Smoke can be seen for miles around and the London Fire Brigade are advising people nearby to keep doors and windows closed as a precaution.

Station Manager John Snelgrove, is at the scene, and said: "This is a large, challenging fire and crews are working hard to bring it under control. We've got 12 fire engines at the scene, as well as an aerial appliance and an aerial ladder platform fighting the fire from above.

"Firefighters are working with a number of water jets around the building to stop the fire from spreading."

Wandsworth Times:

Beautiful: The centre has just undergone a multi-million pound restoration 

The historic arts centre said on Twitter: "There is a fire in our building. Everyone is out safe and the fire brigade are working hard to get the fire under control. We'll update you.

“We will not be running any performances this evening. If you've bought tickets for any show we'll be in contact about refunds or exchanges."

Wandsworth Times:

Winding down: Fire fighters hosing down the centre (Photo by Paul Foxcroft)

A resident of Sisters Avenue said: “Last time I checked, it [the fire] was just at the top but it is ginormous now. It looks like one half of the building is really on fire. There is a lot of black smoke in the sky.

“When I looked 10 minutes ago, it was tiny. It is at the end of the building and it is really on fire. There are hundreds of people in the street.

“It looks like the water is not helping very much.” 

Kelly Mahon, who works at Winkworth estate agents, said businesses on the same side of road as the centre were evacuated and she and her colleagues had been told to stay indoors.

She added: “There is about seven fire engines, an ambulance there and the flames seems to be at the back of the building. There are lots of people outside the office looking and watching.

"They have closed the road off. It is quite scary seeing all these flames."

Wandsworth Times:

Photographer Michael Mapp said he could see the fire from Battersea Park Road.

He said: “The largest part of the building that I can see would have been the grand ballroom – that looks like it’s completely gone now. There’s no roof. I can see the pitched wall.

“It looks like it’s gutted. You can see the firemen trying their best up on the extension scaffold. “I’ve watched it basically take hold in the grand ballroom. The roof was on fire at first and it’s just torn through the building.

“Both roofs have gone. The grand ballroom is gone. The back end is gone too.”

LFB has taken over fifty 999 calls from members of the public. The emergency services were called at 4.20pm. Fire crews from Brixton, Lambeth, Kensington, Clapham, Chelsea, Norbury and Fulham fire stations are at the scene.

The cause of the fire is not known at this stage.

Wandsworth Times:

Labour leader Ed Miliband had visited the centre in February (above) with Ainsley Harriot and Battersea MP Jane Ellison pictured in January (below)

Wandsworth Times:

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More to follow.

Email ssleigh@london.newsquest.co.uk