A fire at a 'beautiful' Grade II-listed church has sparked calls for the site to be protected and preserved.

As reported, emergency services were called to the disused St Peter's Church on Portland early on Monday evening. The fire at the historic site, which is more than 150 years old, is believed to be deliberate.

Two fire engines were sent to the scene, on Grove Road, at around 5.20pm and smoke was seen billowing from the basement of the building when they arrived.

Motorists were advised to avoid the area while firefighters tackled the blaze.

Police have said a local youth is assisting them with enquiries about how the fire began.

Residents responded to news of the fire with sadness. They described the church - which is no longer in use and is privately owned - as 'beautiful' and 'loved by the community'.

Dorset Echo: Firefighters at Grove Road on Portland

The Echo previously reported how the crypt at the church was being used as a drinking den.

Police said at the time they were in talks with the owner of the site to ensure security measures were put in place to stop anti-social behaviour reoccurring.

Read more: Mayor blasts people using crypt in St Peter’s Church, Portland as boozing den

Councillor for Portland Sandra West fondly remembers the former CofE church, in particular the mosaic floor inside.

She said of the fire: "It is absolutely shocking, it is awful. It was a beautiful church.

"It is getting to the stage where it is being left and neglected. It needs looking at, I would have said it should be pulled down but it is a church. It is so sad because it was so beautiful.

"It is dangerous as well. This is not a one-off; it will continue to be vandalised until someone does something about it. This beautiful church is going to wrack and ruin."

She added: "It is horrendous. You really feel desperately down about it. Whether you have any beliefs or not I think it should be preserved properly.

"It is just going to be there falling apart until it is just bricks and mortar."

The church, which was built between 1870–72 using convict labour from the adjacent Portland Prison, is privately owned and features on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register.

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service has since confirmed the blaze was 'most likely' started through deliberate ignition.

A Dorset Police spokesperson said: "We would like to remind the community how dangerous lighting fires can be.

"They can spread quickly, sometimes unintentionally, so we would always advise to avoid setting a fire in an enclosed space."