Police carried out a full-scale evacuation following a major fire in a market town in Sudbury. Emergency services were called to Market Hill, in Suffolk, at about 18:25 after reports that people were trapped in flats above business premises.

Several peoeple were rescued from a burning flat. 20 others were evacuated from their homes in the immediate area as flames spread, and a large part of the town has now been closed off. According to the East Anglian Daily Times, the fire started in a nail salon nearby and quickly spread to the town's Oxfam shop, which has been completely engulfed in flames, as well as a sports shop and the town's HSBC bank.

Two ambulance crews, two ambulance officers, the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and the Essex Air Ambulance attended to four patients suffering injuries. Three patients - a man in his 50s, a woman in her 40s and a woman in her 70s - who had minor burns and smoke inhalation, were taken to the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds for further treatment. Another patient was treated at the scene.

Luke Cresswell, a teaching assistant and local councillor, told BBC news: "I saw around 20 people being evacuated. They were given covers and looked really upset. There were families including children. They looked really shaken up, some of them were crying. A couple of the young girls only looked around five or six years-old and were very upset. They were given blankets and taken to the side by an ambulance where they were being looked after."

Others were trapped inside a flat and had to be rescued as the fire ripped through several shops and adjoining flats. Cllr Cresswell, 27, said: "You could see them come out with firemen and women. The fire is huge and proper black. I kept thinking it had died down but it flared up again. The fire is literally right in the middle of the town centre."

Eyewitness Anne Deacon, told the East Anglian Daily Times: "It's terrible - the Oxfam shop building which has been there for decades has completely gone - it's really sad. The police just shouted at everyone to get back because they think the roof might collapse at any minute."

Town councillor, Simon Barrett added: "This is a huge fire and really serious - the firefighters seem to be struggling to get it under control at the moment. These are really old timber buildings with historical significance. The fact that it is also affecting so many businesses is a complete disaster."

In a statement Suffolk police said: "Shortly after 7pm police began a full-scale evacuation of the immediate area as the fire spread. As of 7.30pm up to 20 people had been moved from their homes. Police have also begun contacting business keyholders where possible.

"The fire service are believed to have 15 appliances at the scene in a bid to get the blaze under control. The cause of the fire is currently unknown, with the priority being public safety, and arrangements being made to house those who have been evacuated."

The Trust's HART team are due to remain on scene for most of the night to support fire service colleagues. The fire was still raging hours later, with flames threatening to engulf a block of flats and a cloud of black smoke was visible over Sudbury.

The town is accepting donations at the Sudbury library for those who have lost their homes. Police said the cause is not yet known.