Updated: THE damage to Selby's Abbey Leisure Centre following today's fire may be so severe, the facility may have to be completely rebuilt.

Four fire crews were called to the Abbey Leisure Centre in Scott Road, Selby, after a shift manager noticed smoke on the first floor at about 6.30am yesterday.

Dozens of people watched fire crews tackle the blaze, which destroyed the gym area almost completely.

The fire burned for almost four hours, and caused huge clouds of smoke to billow from the roof across the town.

As these exclusive pictures show, much of the interior of the building was gutted by the blaze, and large sections of the fire-damaged roof and ventilation systems collapsed into the pool.

Council leader Mark Crane said he believed the damage “will run into millions of pounds”, and the council would consult with architects to see whether the structural damage suffered in the blaze would require the building to be completely rebuilt.

Coun Crane said: “It’s a devastating fire that has caused a great deal of damage to the building.

“Clearly we are now faced with a difficult situation because whether it is a new leisure centre or repairs of this one, we are looking at months rather than weeks."

Coun Crane said the district council would work with North Yorkshire County Council and local schools to find alternative facilities for schoolchildren until repairs were complete.

But he said finding alternative pool space could be difficult.

Station Manager Cecil Pugh, from North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, said the fire probably started in the sauna or steam room on the first floor of the building, but no one was injured and everyone was out of the building by the time fire crews arrived.

Fire investigation officers later said that though investigations were ongoing, they did not believe the fire had been started deliberately.

The centre received a £1.1 million refurbishment last year, and councillors are due to meet on Thursday to discuss the addition of new all-weather football pitches at a cost of about £250,000.

Coun Crane said the decision would still go ahead on Thursday, and he hoped work would start by April or May, with alternative temporary changing facilities provided until the fire-damaged centre was refurbished or rebuilt.

One eyewitness, Kate Wilson, of nearby Charles Street, said she heard sirens and saw fire engines pass her window.

She said: “I looked out and I can see all this smoke. It was thick black smoke.

“It was really horrendous – it covered a lot of the sky. It was quite disturbing to see that so close to your home.

“I could not see anything for a good hour.”

Abbey Leisure Centre was hit by two fires in three days back in 2002 which gutted part of the building.

The two fires - both started by electrical faults - gutted two administration offices, caused severe smoke-damage to the swimming pool area, and badly damaged the pool control panel, which operates the water circulation, filtration and disinfection systems.

It meant the centre shut for 11-weeks whilst a costly refurbishment programme was carried out.