FIRE service investigators were yesterday examining the cause of a blaze which severely damaged a Highland hotel as guests prepared to see in the new year.

A total of 29 guests and 10 staff members escaped unhurt after fire broke out at the Loch Sunart Hotel, Strontian, at the head of Glen Tarbert, on Hogmanay.

Teams of firefighters from Strontian, Fort William, and Kinlochleven tackled the blaze. Police said investigations by Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade started yesterday, although the cause of the fire was not thought to be suspicious.

A police spokesman said the blaze had gutted the building, thought to date from the 19th century. Guests and staff were found alternative accommodation in other hotels and bed and breakfasts, although several decided to go home.

Mr Finlay Cunningham, owner of the nearby Strontian Hotel, said the owners of the Loch Sunart Hotel, Iain and Colette Greenaway, were devastated. The couple, originally from the south of England, have owned the hotel for just over a year. Mr and Mrs Greenaway, who lived in the hotel, were provided with a holiday chalet by another neighbour.

q A man was taken to hospital yesterday after rescuing four children in a fire at his neighbour's home. Mr John Jefferson, 38, of The Meadows, Belford, south of Berwick, was detained in Wansbeck General Hospital suffering from the effects of smoke.

He went into the house three times to rescue Jonathan Craw,10, and his eight-year-old brother Daniel after their mother, Sandra, raised the alarm as well as two friends George, 10, and six-year-old Robin Wallace. They were all unhurt.

A woman was killed and two people critically injured when a fire swept through a house in Huddersfield early yesterday. Mrs Mary Lockwood, 62, was dead on arrival at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and husband John, 65, and son, Anthony, 39, are seriously ill. Her grandchildren Scott, seven, and Jade Hartley, nine, were rescued by firefighters.