London Road in Chippenham is expected to remain closed for most of the day after a fire gutted a house opposite the Pack Horse Pub last night.

Firemen were called out to Stella Maris house at 10.50pm after a fire started across both floors. Smoke was still billowing up from the blackened building 14 hours later, rising through the broken panes and the few remaining rafters.

Police cordonned off the area and closed the road between the junctions of Blackcross and Hardens Close.

Ashley Maunder, a regular at the pub, was there when the fire started. He said: “We were in the pub and I heard a bang and then realised there was a fire across the road. We saw the cable on the side of the house sparking, it was a bit scary.”

Crowds gathered in the pub car park to watch as the empty house went up in flames. The surrounding buildings were without electricity for several hours.

The nearby Best One convenience store just opened on Saturday. Sales assistant Gurdeep Singh said they were just about to shut up for the night when a customer came in to tell them the house two doors down was on fire. He said: “After just five minutes the flames had got really big.” He said they had no power until about 4am.

This afternoon the house, full of charred rubble, is still unsafe for firefighters to enter.

A crew from Melksham are keeping a watchful eye on the still smouldering property.

They said it didn’t normally burn so long but had been full of rubbish. “There was lots of junk which didn’t help. The smoke could last all day,” said one of the firemen.

“The ceilings have come down. It’s too dangerous to go in.

“We’re staying here to protect the public and dampen it down if we need to.”

The house fell into a state of bad repair after the elderly couple living there, believed to be retired teachers, moved into a care home some months ago.

Three crews from Chippenham and Corsham used four main jets and a hose reel jet to fight the blaze. They managed to bring it under control after an aerial appliance was brought in from Swindon and a water carrier tank from Royal Wootton Bassett.

A London Road resident came out in the cold this morning to set up a table and serve up tea and hot chocolate to the firemen.

Rachel Farr came from Bristol to visit her friend on London Road but found the road closed. She said: “I was a bit surprised when I couldn’t get through, but then I looked up and saw the smoke.”

Police Inspector Phil Stayning said they would do a search on the building once it was safe to enter.

He said: “There is certainly no indication of any untoward behaviour but it’s very early days.”

Abbeyfield School reported late arrivals due to the road closure.