A red flare fired in a suspected prank in west Dorset sparked a major search operation.

Initially fearing someone was in distress at sea, an operation was mounted involving a Coastguard helicopter which came from Wales, a lifeboat and a Coastguard ground team.

In fact, it turned out the flare had been fired from inland and there was no-one in danger.

The incident last night has prompted a warning from Lyme Regis Coastguard which said red distress flares should only be fired in a maritime emergency.

Valuable rescue resources were used in the search last night.

A spokesman for the team said: "We were called out at 6.08pm on Friday. We were tasked alongside Lyme Lifeboat and Coastguard helicopter Rescue 187 from St Athan (South Wales) to a sighting of a red flare south of Seatown. The team carried out a search from high ground whilst the lifeboat and helicopter searched for any vessel in distress further offshore.

"Fortunately, a walker approached the Coastguard and confirmed the sighting of a red flare but that it had been fired inland near Chideock. With the initial search patterns completed at sea, the rescue assets were stood down."

The spokesman added: "Marine distress flares are NOT fireworks. Distress flares should only be used at sea when there is a vessel and its crew in grave and imminent danger.

"We would like to thank the first informant for making the initial call. We would also like to thank the gentlemen who advised the Coastguard that he had also seen the flare. It avoided a lengthy and very cold night for all the search and rescue crews looking for something that was not there."