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Tears after inferno rips through Battersea Arts Centre

By Eleanor Steafel

A major fire has torn through a famous arts centre in London, sending thick clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky.

No one was injured in the blaze at the Battersea Arts Centre in the south of the city which ripped through the roof of the grade two listed building.

Devastated local people could be seen in the street crying as firefighters fought to control the flames.

More than a dozen fire engines and around 80 firefighters could be seen battling the fire, with many officers being hoisted into the air on extendable ladders to douse the flames from above.

Paul Foxcroft (35), a comedian, was walking from his home in Battersea when he saw flames tear through the venue's bell tower.

He said: "The first thing I saw when I came out of my house were several fire engines hurtling past then I saw grey smoke in the sky.

"Crowds had started to gather. There were two ladies outside crying.

"I got the impression they were just so sad because they loved the building.

"It is an institution for the whole of the city of London. It is hugely popular so this fire will affect a lot of people. The back of the building was being renovated."

Nicholas Bennett, a magistrate at nearby Lavender Hill Magistrates Court, said at the time that black smoke was engulfing the entire area.

He said: "It appeared to be getting worse, although I can't see the flames any more. But there is black smoke everywhere, engulfing the area.

"There are still more appliances arriving now. There are large numbers of people at the opposite side of the road to the fire. You can clearly see the firefighters at work."

It is feared the fire could have caused severe damage to the building, which recently played host to Labour leader Ed Miliband and deputy leader Harriet Harman when they visited on February 23 to launch their party's arts policies ahead of the General Election.

Battersea Arts Centre confirmed that everyone had got out of the building safely, but said they would be cancelling performances.

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