HUNDREDS of cannabis plants were found in a shop after a fire broke out.

Essex Fire Service sent six fire engines, including one with an aerial ladder platform, to the shop in Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff at 4.48pm on Monday evening.

On arrival firefighters reported that the shop was completely smoke logged and there was a well developed fire inside the shop.

At 6.30pm the Incident Commander reported that the fire had almost been extinguished and firefighters would remain on site to dampen down the area and make it safe.

The building has suffered smoke and fire damage.

Inside, more than 500 cannabis plants were found and the police were informed.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "We were called following a fire within a shop off Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, at around 5pm on Monday March 30.

"While carrying out a search of the property, over 500 cannabis plants were found within.

"We are seizing the plants and our enquiries are ongoing."

Incident Commander Craig McLellan, of Essex Fire Service, said: "When we arrived the fire was quickly spreading throughout the building and up to the roof.

"But thanks to the skill and hard work of our firefighters, we were able to bring it under control and stop it spreading to adjoining buildings."

One passer-by who witnessed the fire engines at the scene said: "It didn't happen at Sainsbury's as some people were saying there.

"It happened at the cafe next to Sainsbury's.

"There were blacked out police cars on the scene and lots of ambulances.

"The building has been derelict for a few years."

The cause of the fire is unknown and an investigation will be carried out.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: "An ambulance, an ambulance officer vehicle and three Hazardous Area Response Team vehicles were called to and address in Hamlet Court, Westcliff shortly after 5pm on Monday following reports of a fire.

"No persons were in the building and there were no casualties - our attendance was to support Fire and Rescue colleagues."