Fire crews battled a blaze at a derelict home near a former zoo site in Vange.

The incident saw smoke billowing across the A13 as the blaze took hold.

Residents feared the farm shop, Mini Market, and garden centre, Heather’s Plants, was on fire and owner, Terry Heather, was bombarded with calls and Facebook messages warning him.

It was however, shop worker, and Terry’s nephew, Lewis Simmons, who raced down to the scene to check the shop was okay, and was relieved to learn it was in the clear.

The 37-year-old told the Echo: “It was terrifying for us, the garden centre has been there for eight years but the farm shop, which was the old zoo pet shop, we started it during lockdown.

“Terry was getting calls saying the shop’s on fire, I thought ‘oh god’.

“We had only been closed for an hour-and-a-half, I live round the corner in Vange so I shot down there and when I got there, there were three big fire engines there and immediately as I turned round the bend I could see it wasn’t the shop - thank the heavens.

“It was the old zoo keeper, Johnny’s old house, which has been uninhabited for 20 odd years.

“The security company did say said it looks like it was habited though as there was clothes and beds still in there.”

The relieved businessman added: “The fire service explained that the shop wasn’t in danger, but asked if anybody lives in the derelict home, but I said ‘no, no one’s lived there for 20 years’.”

“Security come here twice a day to make sure no ones trying to move on the site or any squatters or anything.”

Lewis kindly opened up the shop car park to allow the chief fire officers to come in and allow them to clear part of the roadway on the A13, and offered firefighters and police officers coffees and snacks.

Lewis added: “I brought out a big box of breakfast cereal bars and coffees and gave them to fire and police and told them they were doing a great job.

“They were just battling the fire - it’s terrible to say but it was almost quite exciting. They are amazing at what they do.

“They kept everybody back and cordoned off the road.”

A spokesman for Essex Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The firefighters were called to the fire at the single storey derelict building in London Road, Vange, at 6.30pm on Thursday night.

“The firefighters extinguished the fire by 7.25pm.

“The cause of the fire is unknown.” An investigation will take place.

The shop opened in lockdown to ease the pressures on the supermarkets, and help the public access basic essentials before introducing fresh jams, and fruit and veg.

Lewis, added: “It was great to see the community support. We were inundated with messaged and phone calls while it was going on so it shows the community spirit is still alive.”