FIREFIGHTERS were called to a blaze in a tunnel running beneath The Market Place shopping centre.

Crews initially thought the fire had started in the newly refurbished vaults — but shopping centre bosses insist it was sparked in an unconnected tunnel near a bridge over the River Croal.

Security guards at the Market Place called the fire service when smoke started seeping from one of the centre’s underground service tunnels off Knowsley Street at 8.15pm last night.

A burning suitcase containing plastic was found at the other of end of the tunnel near a bridge over the River Croal.

The fire was quickly dealt with and has not caused any damage.

An investigation has now been launched into the cause.

Watch manager Craig Lunt said he did not believe the incident was an arson attempt.

He said: "Someone must have been involved but I don't think it was arson because there is nothing to catch fire down there, it might have been a homeless person trying to keep warm, we don't know."

After recommendation from the fire service, security guards have now padlocked the gates leading to the area.

A Market Place Shopping Centre spokesman said: “Security guards on an external night patrol smelt smoke under the archway by Knowsley Street and alerted Greater Manchester Fire Service.

“A small fire occurred on a bridge over the River Croal near to a disused external tunnel not connected to Market Place.

“We remain vigilant of any such incidents and work alongside our partners to ensure the safety of the community in Bolton both inside and outside of the centre."

Police have been informed about the incident but did not attend.