More than 40 firefighters tackled a large fire in the Hampshire countryside today.

Eight fire appliances and an ambulance were sent to a blaze in a barn at Avington Manor Farm, near Alresford.

After the fire gained pace for several hours, there were two large explosions just after 3pm, which threw flames and debris 20 feet into the air.

The blaze produced a plume of thick, black smoke, which could be seen from Winchester five miles away.

Officers donned oxygen-equipment before entering the building, the corrugated roof of which is believed to have contained asbestos.

They also extended the ladder from one of the fire engines so they could be levered up above the flames, and removed doors from the next barn – to where the fire had spread.

At least four water jets were aimed at the heart of the inferno as firefighters brought it under control.

Group manager for Hampshire Fire and Rescue, Dave Turner, said: “We had a large farm building, of approximately 30 by 20 metres which, upon our arrival, had a significant fire within it.

“Crews acted quickly to stop the fire from spreading to where the animals were and over 200 cattle were moved to a position of safety, including two bulls.

“The crews had to act quickly because of the presence of propane cylinders.

“The important aspect for us was establishing a water source to allow for the jets.

“Crews worked hard to limit the fire spread and we’ve worked with the occupiers to enable the cattle to get milked.”

A spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said: “It happened so quickly we're not sure how it all started yet.

“We think there were hazardous materials on site so we cordoned off the road in both directions.

“No animals have been hurt and no people have been reported to have been harmed.”

The 1,400 acre farm is in the lane between the A31 dual carriageway and the village of Avington.

It is both dairy and arable, with cows housed at the farm during the winter.