A FISH shop in Old Leigh was completely destroyed by fire this morning.

Firefighters arrived at The Fisherman’s Co-op to find the ground floor completely alight, and the first floor full of smoke.

Due to the sheer scale of the fire, it took hours to completely extinguish.

The fire started shortly after 5am and by 6.30am, firefighters reported they were making good progress tackling it.

By 2pm just one fire engine remained at the scene with the crew focused on extinguishing the remaining hot spots.

The cause of the fire is as yet unknown and is being investigated.

Rita Yates and her husband Tim were getting ready for their morning run when they spotted the fire from their home, just opposite the site.

The 49-year-old explained: “We could immediately see that something was seriously wrong, straight away you could tell it wasn’t just a bonfire or anything like that.

“We always run at that time of morning, so Tim was more than prepared when he saw the smoke out the window.

“He belted out of the door towards the scene, just in case nobody had called the fire service.

“They must’ve only been there ten minutes before we arrived, there was thick black smoke everywhere.

“We were standing with about three other people who had also stopped, in a pure state of shock. One man had stopped his car all the way up the road, got out and ran to see what was happening.

“This building has been there forever. It’s such a shame, this was such a big part of Leigh’s heritage.

“As we live so close, we’re always in the shop buying prawns and fish like that. I think this will hit home for a lot of people.”

While the blaze was being fought police closed off Leigh Hill to ensure firefighters could deal with the incident as safely as possible.

Neighbouring businesses were left horrified to hear that the building had gone up in flames, including Karen Ratchford, who works at The Leigh Heritage Centre, just a few doors down from the fish shop.

The 65-year-old who lives in Leigh, said: “I’ve volunteered here for ten years, and never have we seen anything like this affect the area. About 9am this morning I had a phone call from a friend who told me it was on fire, I didn’t realise just how bad it was.

“It was a shock to see how bad the damage really was when I came in to work.

“The building is black, the roof had gone, the windows were gone, there was piles of blackened wood – it was just devastating to see.

“I had to check with the police that it was okay to open up. Thankfully they gave me the all clear.

“Many will be disappointed I’m sure. This fish shop is so important, not just to the community but for tourism too, loads of people come down to buy their fish from all over and it’s been here for such a long time.

“It’s absolutely brilliant, I used to be a regular there myself, visiting several times a week with my dogs to buy them crab sticks.”

She continued: “I do worry this will affect business in the following days and also have a knock-on effect for restaurants who buy from them.

“It means yet another one of our old and much-loved buildings is now lost forever.

“We’re sad to see this go, but hope the owners will get back on their feet and will be able to rebuild as soon as possible.”