Seventy firefighters in south London are battling an enormous blaze which engulfed western Europe’s largest mosque.
Ten fire engines were dispatched to deal with the fire at the Baitful Futuh mosque in Morden, which started burning around midday.
A man has been taken to hospital for smoke inhalation, but community leaders have said they do not believe anybody else was affected. The cause of the blaze is not yet known.
Shocked onlookers gathered opposite the mosque, watching a dark plume of smoke billowing out of the building’s roof before they were ushered behind a police cordon. The fire was reported by a member of the public just after midday.
The enormous building sits on a 5.2acre site and can hold 10,500 people. At the time of the fire, however, only a handful of worshippers were inside, and were quickly evacuated. Nobody was at prayer when the fire broke out.
The huge effort to control the fire involved the police, ambulance services and the large fire brigade presence. The firefighting operation shut down the A24 and traffic was tailed back for miles as a result.
As of 6pm, the London Fire Brigade said they had contained the fire to administrative buildings and halls around the main mosque, which was not directly affected by the fire – though it was engulfed by smoke. Shortly afterwards they declared the fire ‘under control’.
Croydon station Manager Philip Morton said from the scene: ‘This is a large fire and our crews have worked hard in difficult conditions to minimise fire spread within the affected building.
‘Thankfully they have managed to confine the fire to the administrative buildings on the site and the mosque itself is unaffected. We have worked closely throughout the incident with the local community to ensure our damage control operations take full regard of the religious significance of the building’s contents’.
Firefighters are expected to remain at the mosque overnight while the fire continues to die down.
An ambulance spokesman said: ‘We treated a male, reported in be in his 40s, with smoke inhalation and took him to St George’s Hospital as a priority.’
British Transport Police were at Morden South overground station, adjacent to the mosque, where trains were running at reduced speed and passing through the station without stopping.
The mosque was built for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community to provide people with a meeting place and somewhere to hold social religious events. It was built on the site of the old Express Dairies in 1999. The building bears the Ahmadiyya Muslim motto ‘Love for all, hatred for none’.
Merton Council leader Stephen Alambritis described the mosque as a ‘major landmark’ in the area.
Damage to the ‘beautiful building’ will be a ‘big blow’ to the community, he said.
Mr Alambritis said the mosque is a very secure building, which is manned by security staff, and suggested the fire could have been caused by cooking preparations rather than an arson attack.
He said: ‘I know from the many times I have been there how well used and professionally it is run.
‘Every time I have been there, I have been met at the doors and the people are very visible and friendly.
‘I could not see how any kind of arson could take place but that is for the police and the fire brigade to investigate. I am sure that this community will want to know themselves whether there is any possible arson.
‘It is a very beautiful building and what has happened is very sad. There were no people at prayer at the time. It does seem that evacuation procedures worked.
‘The congregation there, especially on a Friday, are very large and peaceful and they add very much to the community. This will be a blow to their operation but they will be back.’
The local Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, Siobhain McDonagh, spoke of her shock at the news of the fire.
‘The mosque does a huge amount for the local community. They are tireless raisers of funds for charity – their own charities’ funds and charities in the community,’ she said.
‘Their motto is ‘Love for all, hatred for none’ and they really live that. I have been to the mosque many times – it is a beautiful building and my heart goes out to them.’
Lord Ahmad, a high-profile member of Ahmadiyya Muslim community and junior government minister, tweeted that ‘this is a beautiful mosque complex which has transcended barriers and been a beacon of peace – thoughts & prayers’.