AN Alresford vicar today watched as his church burned in a devastating fire.

The Rev Royston Such, vicar of 800-year-old St Peters in Ropley for 24 years, could only stand by as the blaze was put out.

He said: "It's absolutely devastating. The building has so many memories attached to it, we have a book called 'A Years Mind' which we use to commemorate people who have died in the village. We are due to have a wedding here the day after tomorrow.

"It's not just my church, it's everybodies church. It hasn't sunk in, and it doesn't feel real. It's utterly catastrophic."

At least 70 firefighters were present, 12 fire engines, three water carriers, a special equipment unit, 1 commercial unit and eight senior officers.

Villagers watched in horror as the historic church went up in flames.

St Peter’s Church in Ropley, near Winchester, caught fire hours after people living nearby experienced power surges.

Ten fire engines and more than 50 crew tackled the blaze, which destroyed the roof of the historic building.

At the height of the fire black smoke could be seen as far away as the A31 Alresford bypass.

One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s terrible. I looked out of my window at 11.45pm yesterday and didn’t see anything but could smell faint smoke. My internet and electricity kept surging last night.”

Terry Neilson, of Vicarage Lane, added: “I came up to get a paper this morning and saw smoke so wandered down out of curiosity and saw this.

“The church has been at the heart of the village for 800 years. Hopefully the stone will be saved.”

A welfare centre has been set up near the school which officers say is to treat for smoke inhalation and provide water for firefighters. (Not public unless necessary.)

Locals gathered to watch as firefighters attempted to put out the blaze, which destroyed the roof. The clock is still working.

An investigation is under way into what caused the blaze.