SCORES of residents in the Old Town were evacuated after a large fire swept across the East Hill on Wednesday evening.
A large area of gorse and heather, stretching up to two miles in length, caught alight, sending large plumes of smoke across town.
People living in Tackleway and All Saints Street had to leave their homes for around two hours after the blaze took hold at around 5pm.
Rosie Leech, who works on the West Hill lift, said: “Most of the Old Town was covered in smoke. George Street was smoke-logged at one stage.”
Alan Griffiths, landlord of The Stag Inn, said: “The fire looked horrendous but it was brought under control very quickly by firefighters.”
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service received almost 100 calls about the fire.
Dave Wilby, watch commander from The Ridge Fire Station, said: “It was a substantial fire, and as it travelled down the hill towards Rock-a-Nore we became concerned it would spread into the Old Town.
“Our initial concerns were for residents so they were evacuated for at least two hours. We had the fire very much under control quickly.”
He said firefighters were concerned because of the wind and dry conditions, and feared the fire would spread much further.
Fire crews from Hastings, Bexhill and Rye tackled the blaze using Land Rovers, a ground monitor, three main jets, one hose reel and foam.
The fire was under control by 6.15pm and was allowed to burn in controlled circumstances with crews visiting the scene overnight and early yesterday (Thursday) morning. Firefighters later returned to damp down the area after reports that some sections were still smouldering.
It is not the first time a fire has struck the East Hill this week, as arsonists set fire to gorse on Monday evening.
Firefighters from The Ridge station tackled the blaze, which affected a 100m by 10m area of the hill, within two hours.
But the cause of Wednesday’s blaze remains unknown. Paul Way, incident commander, said: “It is currently under investigation. In the current dry climate, ground conditions are extremely vulnerable to ignition sources. Once started, a small fire can develop rapidly, spreading over a large area.”
A spokesman for Sussex Police said: “The fire was soon dealt with by firefighters, there was no reported injury or property damage, and residents who temporarily evacuated their homes went back within two hours of the fire being reported.
“At this stage there is still no evidence that the fire was caused deliberately but police are making further local enquiries and are working with East Sussex Fire and Rescue to try to fully establish the circumstances.”