DOZENS of guests and staff were evacuated from a seafront hotel after a stray cigarette butt set fire to the roof.

A total of 44 people were safely evacuated during the night after a blaze broke out at the Leam Hotel on The Esplanade Weymouth on Wednesday.

The third-floor fire is believed to have been started accidentally by a lit cigarette that was thrown out of an attic window.

Owner David Knight said: “This is every hotelier’s nightmare – you never imagine it’s going to happen to you.

“We think it was a cigarette end that was flicked out of one of the windows and landed into the gully on the roof – the wind must have blown the sparks up under the tiles.

“What are the chances? You would never imagine that one cigarette could cause so much damage.”

He added: “We’re lucky the whole roof didn’t burn down, another five minutes and it would all have been up in flames. The room is completely gutted and the roof will need major repairs.”

Mr Knight, who has been at the hotel for 10 years, said: “We had 44 people inside, staff and customers, who were all safely evacuated.

“Our customers were taken in by the Carlton Hotel because they were out in the cold.

“The firemen were here for a good couple of hours, they were very thorough.

“It should be covered by our insurance but it will take a long time for that to get sorted out.

“The building is more than 200 years old, which makes this sort of thing even worse because it’s mainly made of wood.”

He added: “We recently spent thousands of pounds redoing all our smoke detectors and fire alarms and it’s such a good job we did.

“I’m just happy no-one was hurt, I would like to thank the fire service for their hard work and to the Carlton for looking after our guests.”

Business partner Mike Ojczyk said: “It’s amazing that one little cigarette can cause all of this damage.

“We have been full all week and now that room is obviously going to be out of action for quite a while and the whole building smells of smoke.

“We’ve had a builder round to look at the damage – the main thing for the moment is getting it watertight before the rain gets in.

“We can’t start the repair work until the insurance claim has come through.”

Three engines battle flames

THREE fire engines were called out to the hotel in The Esplanade to extinguish the flames.

A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said: “At 10.45pm on Wednesday we received a call to a fire in a room in a hotel on The Esplanade in Weymouth.

“Two appliances were mobilised from Weymouth fire station and were on scene within five minutes.

“An additional engine was also requested.

“Firefighters extinguished the fire using breathing apparatus and hose reel jets.

“The stop message was received at 12.24pm.

“It is believed the cause of the fire was smoking materials that entered the roof void.

“There was severe damage to the roof construction and moderate by smoke to the room.

“We would like to reiterate the safety message to make sure smoking materials are extinguished and disposed of in an appropriate manner.”