A SPECIAL ceremony for bereaved families nearly ended in disaster w h e n m e m o r i a l candles started a fire in a church.

Parish priest Fr Geoffrey Hilton used a damp towel to extinguish 168 candles after they filled St Osmond’s RC Church, in Breightmet, with smoke.

The tea lights had been lit by members of the congregation during a special service at 3pm on Sunday, which was held for people who have suffered a bereavement in the last 12 months.

More than 200 people attended the service, in the Long Lane church, and many of them went to the altar to light a candle in memory of their lost loved ones.

But the mass of candles, which had been left on a cloth on a table, caused a small fire, which firefighters said spread to a rug.

The church had been locked up and the congregation had left when Fr Hilton returned and discovered the building was full of smoke.

A member of the congregation, who asked not to be named, said she and her family were alerted to the fire by a woman and a child in the church grounds.

They said the church was on fire and when we looked through the window there was a blaze.

“It was not a massive blaze, but big enough to cause damage if it was left,”

she said.

One member of the group dialled 999, while another attempted to get in to the church and another man ran to find the priest.

Members of the group then went into the church with Fr Hilton and helped extinguish the blaze.

Firefighters from Bolton central fire station attended shortly afterwards, at 4.40pm.

Watch manager Karsten Boyle said they were lucky that the priest had gone back to the church, otherwise it could have been much worse.

Fr Hilton, aged 57, said it was a minor incident, and said the candles had got “a little bit excited”, and had “stuck together causing the smoke”.

He said: “I think someone called the fire brigade from outside and they thought it was worse than it was.

“The candles couldn’t have spread to anything as they were on a marble floor, but nonetheless I am grateful for the call as they have obviously gone past and thought something is burning.”