THE condition of a 52-year-old man rushed to hospital after his Atherton flat caught fire yesterday afternoon is "improving", according to the fire service.

Fire crews from Wigan, Farnworth and Hindley were called to the Ainsworth Avenue flat at just after 4pm.

The fire is understood to have started in the kitchen. It has caused "severe" internal damage.

A fire service spokesman said a 52-year-old man was rescued from the kitchen and has since been transferred to Wigan Royal Infirmary by paramedics suffering from heat and smoke inhalation.

His condition was descrived as "critical" on Thursday night, with a fire service trauma technician feeding him oxygen at the scene, but it has since improved.

Six firefighters were required to wear breathing apparatus to put out the fire with a hose reel, indicating that the flat had become heavily smoke-filled.

People living in neighbouring flats had to be evacuated while fire crews fumigated the building.

Fire investigation officers are now at the scene trying to find the cause of the blaze. It is not yet known whether it was started deliberately.

Station manager Kevin O'Connor, who was in charge of the incident, said: "The man was in his home when there was a fire in the kitchen.

"The property was completely smoke logged and the man who was rescued is only alive because of the actions of the firefighters from Atherton who rescued him.

"The communal areas of the flats were smoke logged and around six of the residents were evacuated while we cleared the smoke.

"The cause of the fire is still under investigation by our specialist fire investigators."