Residents were forced to flee their homes as a huge fire raged on Eel Pie Island.

An explosion was heard from the island in the River Thames, near Twickenham, and eyewitnesses reported seeing a fireball, after the blaze broke out at about 9.30pm on Saturday.

Residents fled the island to the safety of Twickenham riverside, where they watched as huge flames engulfed the home of architect Clive Chapman. It is thought a gas cylinder exploded as the blaze took hold.

Inventor Trevor Baylis, who lives in the island, said today: “It was dreadful.

“I was just retiring when I heard an enormous bang. I thought it was a firework. I got up and went out - it looked like a tornado.

“The flames were so high you could see them above the trees.”

About 30 firefighters battled the blaze which left the three-storey house and a workshop badly damaged and partially damaged a single-storey house.

Residents took shelter at the Fox pub in Church Street, Twickenham, until firefighters said it was safe for them to return to the island at about 4am.

A spokesman from the London Fire Brigade said today: “There were a number of cylinders found in the building.

“Members of the fire brigade were on the island until Sunday because of the cylinder procedures.”

Police confirmed today the blaze was not being treated as suspicious, however parts of the island remained sealed off.

It is thought about 120 people live on the island, which can only be accessed by a bridge.

The island was the site of the now legendary Eel Pie Hotel, a live music venue where the likes of the Rolling Stones and The Who performed during the 1970s.

However, in 1971 the hotel burned down in a mysterious fire. In 1996, the centre of the island was devastated by fire, and a year later, the footbridge was damaged by a utilities contractor. A new footbridge opened in August 1998.

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