SHOPS were evacuated and traffic brought to a standstill when fire broke out off Leigh’s Broadway yesterday.

The blaze took hold in two outbuildings, filled with rubbish, at the back of the 100-year-old V.Mattacks fishmongers in Elm Road.

It spread to the roof area of a neighbouring shop, and a nearby fence, as smoke billowed across the town.

Fishmonger Ollie Brame said: “We will most likely be closed for a couple of months, but we will open as soon as we can.

“We believe the fire started because a homeless man, who is residing in the communal car park nearby, may have set light to the temporary structure which he has created.

“He has been there for about eight months and has been lighting fires to cook his dinner.

“The fire then spread into our roof, which then partially collapsed.

“The stock is ruined.

“The homeless man wasn’t on the scene when the fire spread, and hasn’t been seen since.”

A spokesman for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service said an investigation will be carried out.

Bustles, a breast cancer charity shop, also closed.

A spokesman said: “Everyone in the shop is okay.

“It was out the back of the shop, not in it.

“We’re not sure how it started or where it came from exactly.”

The shop posted: “We are very sorry to inform you that our Leigh shop is temporarily closed due to a fire behind.

“All staff and customers are safe. We will update you with our plans when the fire service are finished.”

A spokesman for the fire service: “Crews reported that two outbuildings were on fire and had spread to adjoining fence panels.

“The fire then spread to the roof space of an adjoining shop.

“Crews were able to contain the fire and prevented it from spreading any further.

“Firefighters extinguished the blaze by 10.47 am.

“The two outbuildings were completely destroyed.”