Staff from several Waitrose stores piled in to help at Yateley after the shop there was damaged by fire and, to the delight of shoppers, the store reopened on Saturday, only six days after the blaze.

Manager Peter Hennessey said: "I can only call it a miracle."

He said the blaze began at 4am on the previous Sunday when someone dragged a bundle of Sunday supplements under a bench and set light to it. The flames jumped to the Waitrose sign and then leapt up to the eaves.

Although the roof was ablaze, it is made of a substance similar to asbestos and did its job well, according to Mr Henessey.

"It is a compliment to the architect," he said. "Some of the walls cracked with the heat, but the structure stayed up; the construction was sound."

At the peak of the five-hour blaze over 70 firemen fought the flames.

Amazingly, inside the four story building the shop floor was hardly touched at all. Upstairs the offices were smoke damaged and some walls were cracked.

In the basement, where the warehouse occupies two levels, again there was no damage at all.

The management decided to try to reopen by the following Monday, but they exceeded their own expectations.

In four days flat staff from Fleet, Frimley, Burgess Hill and Waterlooville, as well as Yateley workers, worked round the clock to clear every single item from the shop and warehouse and the entire premises got a spring clean.

All fresh items and Waitrose brand items were thrown away and dry goods with non-Waitrose brands were sent for salvage. Then the great re-stocking operation began.

Last Thursday they started getting deliveries and on Friday the fresh foods came in.

On Saturday, the doors were open, to the delight of their customers.

Office staff are working out of seven portacabins in the car park while the top floor is refurbished.