THREE cars have been gutted following an unexplained fire on the roof of a shopping centre car park.

Smoke could be seen rising from the roof of Crowngate shopping centre's multi-storey car park in Worcester city centre earlier this afternoon.

The shopping centre was evacuated as firefighters tackled the blaze, one woman describing how she became separated from her daughter in the confusion as crowds fled the scene earlier this afternoon.

The fire engulfed three cars – the worst damage being to a green Ford Fiesta Zetec where it is understood the fire started. 

A dark green Mini and a white BMW were also damaged as flames and black smoke rose from the Fiesta. 

The fire caused extensive damage to the interior of the Fiesta, melting the steering wheel and dashboard.

The flames, which sent black plumes of smoke billowing out, had also damaged the engine compartment and the bonnet was raised. 

The Worcester News understands the fire began in the Fiesta and spread, damaging the cars parked either side of it.

A young woman was seen crying near the damaged cars. She is believed to be the owner of one of the vehicles.

Two officers from West Mercia Police were present at the scene, offering comfort, support and advice to the woman and talking to Crowngate staff.

When a reporter arrived shopping centre managment were discussing the logistics of getting a recovery truck to the top floor with the two metre height restriction in place.

Leanne New, writing on the Worcester News Facebook page, said: "It was two to three cars on fire. 

"We were on top floor and I got separated from my eight-year old in the evacuation process but I cannot fault the speed and care the fire brigade showed me in finding her. The longest 40minutes ever."

The Worcester News reporter was asked to leave by management at Crowngate shopping centre who declined to comment although we were given a contact email address for the Crown Estates press office.

A spokesperson for the Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said they received a call at 1.51pm to 'a serious car fire on the roof of a multistorey car park'.

Matt Maslin, 20, of Northwick, Worcester, who had parked for the first time in the Crowngate had a memorable first experience, hearing the alarms going off and watching as the shopping centre was evacuated.

He said: "I was parked on the sixth floor and I was coming into Crowngate when I heard the alarms going off and saw people rushing out, quite a lot of people. 

"The shutters were all going down and I thought I'd better walk back out. I could see the smoke coming from the car park. I was trying to figure out where my car was. It crossed my mind it could be my car on fire."

Marcus Blizzard, aged 36, of Colwall said he rushed past a firefighter who tried to stop him climbing the stairs to the roof of the car park.

His partner, Helen Carter, 31, and their dog, a one-year-old whippet-lurcher cross called Toots were waiting inside the car, oblivious to the drama going on nearby until she left the vehicle and saw the smoke.

Mr Blizzard said: "I got near enough to the last set of stairs and a firefighter said 'you can't come up here, there's a car fire'. I said 'my partner is sat in the car with the dog'.

"He had his arm out to stop me but I went around the outside of him and he said 'Oi!' and chased me up the stairs."

Miss Carter said: "The dog was scared to death."

Mr Blizzard said he then heard the firefighter telling colleagues that they needed to check inside the cars on the roof to make sure there was no-one inside them.

A fire service spokesman confirmed that three crews had attended, all from Worcester. He said deliberate ignition was not suspected and no fire investigation has been requested.

At its height, around 14 firefighters were involved in tackling the fire.

Buses are running as normal from the Crowngate bus station.

More to follow.

Thanks to Matt Maslin for this video.