RUSH-HOUR traffic came to a halt in Weymouth as firefighters tackled a blaze which broke out in a flat above a pub.

The Rock Hotel, which stands on the busy junction of Newstead Road and Abbotsbury Road, was at the centre of the fire drama yesterday morning as black smoke poured from the windows.

The fire prompted a major response by emergency crews as it was feared someone was trapped inside the top-floor flat.

Part of Abbotsbury Road was closed for about 90 minutes while traffic in Newstead Road was directed around the scene by police so crews could work safely.

After a thorough search of the building by firefighters wearing breathing kits no one was found and it was confirmed shortly afterwards the two people who live in the flat, Michael Ace and his son Marcus, had left earlier to go to work. No one was hurt but the flat was severely damaged by smoke and there was some fire damage in the kitchen.

Abbotsbury Road from its junction with Newstead Road remained closed to northbound traffic because of the Wessex Water works.

Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze should serve as a warning about the dangers of disposing of smoking materials after the cause was said to be the contents of an ashtray which had been tipped into a plastic bin.

Sub-contractors for Wessex Water replacing a water main in Abbotsbury Road dialled 999 after noticing smoke around 8.50am.

Two fire engines from Weymouth and one from Portland attended as well as an ambulance and two police cars.

Mark and Debbie Pollard who run the pub were away at the time of the fire.

Barman Jay Pringle-Martin was staying in a flat above the pub and told how he was woken by a fire alarm.

He said: “I raced out of bed and went to see if there really was a fire. In my panic I fell down the stairs.”

Mr Pringle-Martin, 24, said he wanted to make sure everyone was out of the building and unlocked the door to the other flat where Mr Ace and his son live.

He said: “I wasn’t sure if they were home and I couldn’t get an answer when I banged on the door.

“I opened the door and smoke poured out. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me because of thick, black smoke.

“I opened the skylight to ventilate the place and got out of there.”

Mr Pringle-Martin added: “I was shocked when I realised there really was a fire.

“Luckily, I was the only one in the building but I didn’t know that at the time.

“My main worry was that people were trapped. Thankfully everyone was safe.”

Sub-contractor for Wessex Water Harold Huxter dialled 999.

He said: “We’d just started the second phase of our work in this area. We were just getting set up for the day when I noticed a lot of black smoke coming out of the top window of the pub and from the roof behind.

“I did what anyone would have done and called the fire brigade.

“We banged on the doors of the pub and then the lad came out. We told him we’d called 999 and help was on the way.

“The police asked us to close the road so we put some cones out and traffic was diverted into Essex Road.”

Pub landlord Mark Pollard said: “I was just about to get on a plane in Malaga when I got a call about the fire so it was a bit of a shock.

“The business has not been affected – the fire happened in one of the flats we rent out.

“It’s just smoke damage. The flooring is a bit charred and a freezer has a melted front so it’s just cosmetic really. It was very lucky.

“The tenant is understandably shaken up. Some personal effects have been damaged by the smoke.”

The Incident Commander, Weymouth Fire Station watch manager Martin Ryan, said: “The believed cause of the fire was smoking materials being placed in a bin. So we would like to highlight the safety message. After smoking it is important to ensure that all cigarettes are extinguished before disposing of them.”