The sound of a speeding car has led police to believe that arsonists set fire to the Prince Albert pub.
Witnesses heard the vehicle leaving the scene, shortly before flames were seen lapping the roof of the derelict building at around 3am on Tuesday.
Firefighters prevented the former Ashford pub being totally destroyed when the blaze broke out in the premises in the middle of the night.
About 20 crew members from Ashford, Charing and Wye fire stations worked to extinguish flames engulfing the upper storey of the pub in New Street.
Four pumps and a height vehicle were used to fight the fire for six hours.
It is understood around a quarter of the pub's inside has been destroyed or badly damaged and the cause of the blaze is now under investigation.
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Dousing the remaining flames
Borough town centre chief Graham Galpin is a nearby resident, and was awoken at around 3am.
He said: "I was aware of noise outside and it didn't sound like emergency services, but I went out to have a look.
"There was a great deal of commotion and the building was fairly well alight at that point.
"Firefighters were pulling off roof tiles and it all looked rather dangerous. We were a little concerned it might have spread to nearby houses.
Clearing up the aftermath
"I've got great respect for the fire service and we are very grateful for the work they did."
Firefighters searched the basement and ground floor of the premises in case anyone was inside, but found nothing.
The pub has been empty for a number of years, but the building was sold last September.
Last year it was understood to have been sold but no redevelopment or signs of it re-opening have happened.
The Prince Albert pub caught fire overnight Picture: Graham Galpin
More recently it has been subject to a number of graffiti attacks on its exterior, with unconfirmed rumours that people may have been living rough in the interior.
Workmen have been seen entering the building and the graffiti has been painted over, only to reappear.
Video: Firefighters tackle blaze at Prince Albert pub
There are no reports of any injuries.
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