COMMUTERS returning home from work yesterday (Wednesday) evening were confronted by the shocking sight of a chemist shop apparently engulfed in flames - but all was not as it seemed.

Thick grey smoke was seen billowing out of the front entrance of the Wanstead High Street branch of Boots at about 7.30pm, with the inside of the building illuminated by what appeared to be the distinctive orangy glow of fire.

The distant sound of fire engines rushing to the scene added to the drama, with worried passers-by stopping to see what would happen next, convinced that they were witnessing a devastating blaze.

But those expecting the store to be left as a smoke-blackened shell were in for an even bigger shock when they walked past this morning to find the building completely undamaged and open for business as usual.

The Guardian spoke to manager Harry Razzaq, who was at the shop at the time of the 'fire,' to find out what had happened.

He said: "The smoke was caused by a new anti-theft system we have, which was accidently set off when we were closing the store.

"It definitely looked dramatic. I was going to take a picture myself.

"The system is designed to make it difficult for people to steal things if they break in.

"The smoke is really thick but is not harmful. It's like the smoke you get in some nightclubs.

"I've only just started at this branch, but I was told it was installed after a previous incident where people broke in and stole fragrances."

Mr Razzaq said the glow of the store's lights through the smoke may have given the impression of flames.

He said: "Someone must have called the fire brigade because two fire engines turned up.

"Myself and another member of staff were there at the time.

"No-one was hurt and we opened the store as usual this morning as if nothing happened."

Jamie Hodge, of the Wanstead Society, who witnessed the incident last night, said: "As I was walking up the High Street, I saw smoke billowing out of the Boots store, with staff gathered round the entrance.

"There was also a strange glow which looked very much like a fire - and moments later a number of fire engines were heard on their way.

"Returning to the shop later, I was gobsmacked to see that there was no sign at all of anything untoward, indeed everything looked as normal."