VILLAGERS in Oldbury were taken to safety by police after a car repair workshop went up in flames, sending gusts of thick smoke towards neighbouring houses.

Fire crews were called to reports of a blaze at Ashley Thouless Mobile Mechanic at the Old Brickyard on Westmarsh Lane at 7pm last Thursday.

The street was immediately cordoned off and half a dozen cottages were evacuated as a precaution.

It took several hours before residents were allowed back on the lane.

A villager, whose cottage looks straight onto the Old Brickyard, told the Gazette he was only given permission to go back into his home over four hours later.

The man, who asked not to be named, said: "We were evacuated by the police and we were not allowed to go back inside until 11.30pm."

People living up Westmarsh Lane and further away from the source of the fire were asked by officers to ensure all their windows were shut but permitted to remain in their homes.

The Ashley Thouless warehouse, which measured around 60m by 10m and was divided into four smaller industrial units, was entirely gutted. Only the shells of cars are left in the yard. No one from the company was available for comment this week.

Six pumps attended initially, along with the fire services command and control unit from Kingswood, and found the building well alight.

Five LPG cylinders were affected by the fire, as well as an acetylene gas cylinder, one oxygen cylinder and two air compressors. Two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used high-pressure hose reels and other specialist equipment to tackle the blaze.

Fire crews said they were satisfied that the fire was started accidentally.

Parish council chairman Barry Turner told the Gazette the flames could be seen all the way from the A38.

"There were oils and fuel and all sorts there," he said. "I know there was an awful lot of smoke. I could see this glow from a long way away. I realised it was coming from the brickyard. It was totally destroyed."

Police also secured the Anchor Inn, opposite the Old Brickyard. A pub spokesman said: "The police came in. We could see smoke and fire. There was a lot going on."

At around 11.15pm, police officers were able to begin escorting local residents back into their homes.

After four-and-a-half hours, the fire service presence at the scene was scaled down, although three pumps remained there throughout the night damping down and ensuring that the blaze did not pick up again.