FIRE crews from 11 stations were called out when fire ripped through the thatched roof of a picturesque village pub.

More than 50 firefighters were on the scene at the height of the blaze, which destroyed the bar area at the Sailors Return at East Chaldon.

Villager Sam Middlehurst said: "We heard all the sirens but the first we knew it was the Sailors Return on fire was when some friends rang us.

"My husband Paul and I went outside and we could see lots of smoke coming from the bar of the pub.

"Firefighters stripped off all the bar room thatch and damped it down. The whole village seemed to be watching from the village green and the pub was cleared of belongings ahead of the fire.

"We gave the firefighters tea and cakes because many of them were exhausted as they had been fighting a fire nearby on Winfrith Heath when they were called to the pub fire.

"Once the all-clear was given many villagers helped with the clear-up at the pub for the rest of the weekend."

Her husband Paul said: "Firefighters cut a channel in the roof to save the rest of the pub. We don't know for sure what caused the fire, but it may have started by the sun shining through a bottle at the back. It is a lovely pub and we are all absolutely delighted that it has been saved."

Only the single storey bar area was destroyed by Saturday's fire - the rest of the popular two-storey pub escaped the blaze.

Landlady Sue Pollard said: "We were very pleased to get as much help as we did from villagers.

"We hope to erect a marquee for the bar and that and our restaurant will be open from Wednesday."

A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said firefighters from Weymouth, Dorchester, Bridport, Wareham, Bere Regis, Charmouth, Maiden Newton, Sherborne, Swanage, Poole and Hamworthy helped fight the blaze.

He added that five crews were initially sent to the blaze, but that was swiftly increased to eight.

The spokesman said: "About a quarter of the thatch was affected by the fire and there were more than 50 firefighters involved at the height of the fire.

"A single storey section of the building was destroyed but the main two-storey section was unaffected.

"The cause of the fire is still being investigated."