FIERCE bin fires under the historic market house in Ledbury could have been "a disaster of major proportions for the town", the mayor says.

In what was described as "the first shout of 2020", Ledbury firefighters received a call at 12.29am on January 1 to bin fires under the Market House, in Ledbury High Street.

A fire service spokesman said: "On arrival the crew from Ledbury Fire Station found two small litter bins alight which were extinguished with one hose reel jet and buckets of water.

"The incident was logged as ‘stopped’ at 12.47am."

This means the bin fires were out by then.

The half-timbered Market House is Ledbury's most iconic building, dating back to 1617, and it is Grade 1 listed.

Legend has it that the distinctive seventeenth century landmark, in Ledbury High Street, was built by John Abel, the King's Carpenter, in the reign of James 1, although there were additions up to around 1655.

The Fire Brigade is not labelling the incident as arson, and they are not ruling out an accidental cause.

But with the cause unknown, town mayor coun Howells is worried that the fires may have been started deliberately.

He said: "It's obvious that these fires were more than mere pranks, and that they were more considered. We need to keep vigilant.

"But hopefully this was an isolated incident."

He added: "It could have been a disaster of major proportions for the town. It is hard to understand the mindset."

It was not the only worrying incident in the Ledbury area in the early hours of New Year's Day.

Wellington Heath correspondent, Peter Constantine, reported there was a "scuffle" involving "groups of young revellers" who were walking back towards Ledbury shortly after 2am on New Year's Day.

Mr Constantine, who spoke to a number of eye witnesses, said about twenty youths "loitered in the upper part of Horse Road with some lads getting into a scuffle", disturbing residents of the village north of Ledbury for some time into the early hours.

He added: "This resulted in three police vehicles and an ambulance being sent to the scene.

"The young man being ambulanced seemed not to too happy about his lot, and he tried to get out of the ambulance, with police restraining him. It was towards 4am before silence finally returned to our quiet village."

Mr Constantine said of the youths involved: "Let’s hope that they all had an old fashioned talking to and will behave better in future."

Police say the incident "was not reported as a fight".

But a police spokesman confirmed: "We were called at around 3am on January January 2020 to a concern for safety on Horse Road, Wellington Heath.

"A young man was taken to hospital with a minor head injury."

The injured man has not been named.