THE High Street in Highworth was closed for several hours today after a van caught fire.

Flames engulfed the Vauxhall van just after 9.30am in front of the Saracens Head pub. Witnesses said it started in the engine and thick smoke was whipped up by the winds.

A white Ford Mondeo parked behind was also set alight when the brakes failed on the van it rolled backwards.

Gerb Donkersley and Neville Whitaker, who work for the Highworth Town Council, were waiting for a delivery of a Christmas tree in the Market Square when the fire started.

They helped to stop traffic at each end of the High Street while they waited for the police and fire service, and a passer-by used tape to block off the car park.

Mr Whitaker said: “I just looked across and could see flames coming from the bonnet. It just went up very quickly.

“It took about 10 to 15 minutes for the fire brigade to turn up and I think it is lucky that no one was in the van at the time.

“It’s just lucky nobody was hurt as a result and the pub is not too badly damaged.”

Wayne Presley, watch manager for the red watch at Stratton fire station, said: “We were called to a bad van fire with a risk of spreading to a nearby building.

“When we arrived there was lots of smoke and our first concern was to stop the fire spreading to the pub.

“We had guys in breathing apparatus and used two hose reels to extinguish the fire.All of the residents from the hotel were evacuated.

“There was smoke damage to all the rooms in the hotel and we used a pump to help get rid of the smoke, and heat damage to the front of the pub.”