FAMILIES had to be evacuated from their homes after a huge blaze ripped through an industrial unit.

A large area around Halliwell Road was cordoned off by police as firefighters tackled the blaze, which started about 3pm yesterday.

Fire broke out in an industrial unit which houses several businesses, including Highmead MOT Centre, Highmead Body Shop, HMC Tyre Bay Motion Accident Services and Chorley Electrical Traders.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch as a huge wall of flames erupted from the building’s roof, and the intense heat caused the outer walls of the unit to break down.

There were gasps from the crowd as small explosions went off and parts of the building collapsed.

Heat could be felt from hundreds of metres away and a billowing column of thick black smoke could be seen for miles around.

Dozens of families had to flee their homes.

Graham Hanlon, aged 44, of Lindfield Drive, was asleep when the blaze broke out.

The father-of-two and his partner, Deborah have a week-old son, Joseph, and a 20-month-old, Harrison.

He said: “I was having a nap when my neighbour knocked on the door to say there was a fire.

“I could see the flames billowing out of the building and feel the heat inside the house.

“I wanted to get my children out straight away. I was scared the building might blow up.”

They are now staying with family.

Aisha Isat, aged 53, of Farnhurst Grove, also had to be evacuated.

She said: “I’m so worried about it because my house is right next to it.”

And Noor Bagas, aged 29, from Halliwell Road, has also been told not to return to his house.

He said: “I was at the hairdressers when a friend phoned and told me there was a big fire next to my house.

“It was massive and took firefighters two hours to get the flames under control.”

Eyewitnesses described the huge blaze.

Adam Patel, aged 37, of Beech Street, Astley Bridge, said: “My friend’s burger van is in the car park. The building is completely gone. It doesn’t look good.

The council put its emergency plan on standby in case people needed temporary rehoming.

Fire service spokesman Paul Duggan said: “We’ve got a grip on it and it seems to be dying down.

“Most of the impact is on the people who have been evacuated and the road closure at rush hour.”

He said the cause of the blaze was unknown, but it was being investigated.

The warehouse is surrounded by houses, and about 30 homes in several nearby streets, including Halliwell Road and Lindfield Drive, were evacuated in a 100-metre exclusion zone. Halliwell Road was also closed at rush hour, causing traffic chaos across Bolton. Witnesses said some workers had gone back into the building to try to remove gas cylinders, which firefighters said would be damped down for at least 24 hours