A suspected arson attack is being investigated after a popular church hall in Whitton was engulfed in flames in the early hours of Sunday morning.

UPDATE: "Shock, horror and utter devastation": Community rallies around nursery left homeless by suspected arson attack

The hall, which adjoins Whitton Methodist Church in Percy Road, was left "extensively damaged" after firefighters heroically saved the main church building.

The blaze, which was put out by 35 firefighters, is thought to have started at 3am and decimated at least half of the hall, which is used by community groups.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Firefighters were at the Percy Road church hall until 7am. Credit: Whitton Weekly.

Temporary watch manager Steve McGhie, from Twickenham fire station, said: "When we turned up, there was a substantial fire in the church hall and there were concerns that it had spread to the main church itself.

"The excellent work and professional conduct of the firefighters managed to save half of the hall and the church building.

"If we hadn't have acted in the way that we did, that would have been gone within minutes - it was dealt with very quickly and professionally to prevent the fire escalating.

"It could have been much, much worse."

Firefighters were at the scene until 7am yesterday morning, with the cause of the fire still under investigation.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Half of the building was left damaged by the flames. Credit: Whitton Weekly.

Nobody was injured in the fire, which was attended by firefighters from Twickenham, Richmond, Kingston, Heston and Feltham, as well as an aerial platform from Hayes.

He added: "I was expecting it to progress a lot quicker than it did but we managed to stop it in very difficult circumstances - the location of the fire was hard to see.

"There was a lot of damage to the building and there was a point where I thought the whole building was going to be engulfed."

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

The devastation after the night before

The hall is used frequently by groups, including a children's play group and a dance academy, who have been left scrambling around for temporary accommodation.

The church's senior steward, Robin Gammon, said he was told about the blaze at 5am before he made his way to the church.

He said: "It was horrible - several of our congregation were very upset by it.

"A local care home, which we weren't able to contact, turned up expecting the services, they were very upset by it and they had to walk to a neighbouring church.

"I haven't been allowed in the building to survey the damage and we don't know the exact cause of the fire, nobody is being very specific at this stage.

"The hall itself looks extensively damaged, particularly the roof, and I imagine it will be out of action for some time."

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Windows were left shattered after the fire

The church, which avoided any serious damage, remains closed.

Witness Stevie Whitson, who lives opposite the church, said he called the fire brigade after he smelt smoke in his eight-month-old daughter's bedroom.

He said: "Last night, the smell of smoke woke my daughter Imogen at 3am.

"I woke to her crying and when I entered her bedroom I could smell smoke.

"I ran outside to see where it was coming from and saw smoke starting to escape from the church across the road and quickly called the fire department who arrived five minutes later.

"Had it not been for Imogen the fire could have done a lot more damage - however, thanks to her, most of the church has been saved."

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Firefighters used an aerial platform to put out the fire. Credit: Laura Bagot.

Heathfield Councillor John Coombs said he hoped the community groups would be able to use Whitton Community Centre until the church hall has been repaired.

A Facebook group has been set up asking for support and donations to save the Play Days Nursery group, which was based at the hall.

Visit tinyurl.com/qxlbw3k for information.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed the case was now an arson investigation.

He added: "There are no details or descriptions, we are still trying to piece together what has happened."

Anybody with any information relating to the investigation is advised to call the Metropolitan Police non-emergency number on 101, quoting crime reference number 0709171/15.

People can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Did you see the Whitton Methodist Church hall fire on Sunday morning? Contact the Richmond and Twickenham Times news desk on 0208 722 6330 or email tom.ambrose@london.newsquest.co.uk.