AN explosion in a still is believed to have caused a catastrophic fire which swept through an award winning gin distillery.

Firefighters from North Yorkshire, Durham and Darlington battled to bring the blaze at Masons Yorkshire Gin in Aiskew, Bedale, under control as surrounding areas including a neighbouring petrol forecourt were evacuated.

Owners Cathy and Karl Mason who set up the company six years ago moved into the premises at the rear of the Spar garage on Bedale Road two years ago as the company won awards and grew.

They were alerted by staff at the site around 8am yesterday who had fled as fire and smoke engulfed the building after it's understood there was an explosion in or near one of the stills.

Cathy Mason said: "It is a real shock, you just do not expect this to happen. The most important thing though thankfully is that no one has been injured. The fire crews have done a brilliant job.

"There was a lot of stock in there, it is a real blow but we will be carrying on."

Seven fire engines with 35 crew and a turntable ladder battled for over two and a half hours to contain the blaze and stop it spreading through a fire wall to an adjoining garage. They spent the whole day at the site ensuring the fire did not start up again.

Bruce Lindsay owner of the adjoining Chonka Garage said:" The fire fighters have done an excellent job keeping it contained. I was called this morning to tell me my garage was on fire, it wasn't and they have done brilliantly making sure it didn't spread. And the most important thing is noone has been hurt."

Group Manager Steve Gallagher of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue said: "Because it was a fire in a gin distillery that involves large amounts of alcohol and ethanol which creates fierce heat so we had to assess the risks to fire crews going in. We had to gain access without getting too much air in and stoking up the fire, it was difficult.

"We have officers here from Durham, Darlington and North Yorkshire and they have done really well working together to contain this fire and stop it spreading to other buildings."