A HOUSE exploded after being ‘packed with flammables’ in a suspected arson attack on a quiet estate in Clayton-le-Moors.
Firefighters said the semi-detached home in Cumberland Avenue was torched at about 2am yesterday, and described the blaze as one of the biggest residential fires seen in East Lancashire in recent years.
The occupants, said to be a couple with two young children, were not in the house at the time.
Police were investigating at the scene for several hours yesterday and a 24-year-old man from Accrington has been arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.
The damage at the housing association property was so extensive that it had to be partially demolished yesterday by contractors for Hyndburn Homes.
Neighbours descibed the blaze as ‘ferocious’ and praised the Hyndburn, Great Harwood and Blackburn fire crews for stopping the flames spreading to the adjoining house.
One reported seeing ‘a figure’ inside the property before the explosion, while another saw someone flee the scene.
Crew manager Andy Coulton said: “There was a large amount of flammables inside the property, so there was a significant amount of work put into torching the place.
“The gas mains inside the house ignited and it was an inferno. There are guys that have been with us for 20 years who were saying they’d never turned out to a property so well alight.
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“We committed a team into the loft space of the next door house to tackle the fire when it broke through, and it was quite a good result from that perpective as we managed to keep it back. There was just some water damage from our pumps.”
The crews battled the fire for about four hours but some officers remained on the scene throughout the morning, along with National Grid workers, to ensure the gas burned out safely.
Mum-of-five Carole Green, 55, who lives opposite, said: “I was reading in bed at about 1am and when I looked out the window I thought I saw a figure wandering around behind the curtains on the ground floor of the house. I thought it was just my eyes because I was tired and I’d be wasting the police’s time if I rang them, but then about an hour later there was a huge explosion.
“Flames were pouring out the windows and I screamed to my husband to dial 999. The house went up so fast and slates were just popping off the roof. It was unbelievable.”
“What sick person would set a house on fire, especially when two children could have been inside.”
Mrs Green thought the occupants were staying with friends, although other neighbours said they had gone on holiday.
Clare Bowman, 37, who lives on the detached side of the property, said: “The damage to the house is unbelievable and it definitely wasn’t something you expect to see at 2am. We were a bit worried about our house but once the fire brigade got here we realised we were okay. The crews were awesome.”
Wendy Critchley, 57, who lives further up the street, said: “We just heard something that sounded like thunder and then a huge bang at the front of the house. The flames were horrendous and you could feel the heat on your face. It’s normally a very quiet estate without much trouble.”
A resident in neighbouring Warwick Avenue, who asked not to be named, said: “The house just burst into flames and the whole roof was gone within 15 minutes. My son actually saw someone climbing out the windows and running away just before it went off. He’s given a statement to the police.”
Lee Walker, 37, another neighbour, said: “The fire service did an amazing job to stop it spreading to the next door house. They got right in and were spraying water to fight it back.”
Natalie Elliott, 26, of Lancaster Drive, said: “I’m suprised the house next door has survived. I‘ve never seen anything like it.”
Nigel Fenton, managing director of Hyndburn Homes, said: “We are doing everything we can to support our customers at this distressing time and are working with the police to provide any help they need during their investigation.
“We have contacted residents on the street and have liaised with the emergency services about getting access to the damaged property. We have received permission to carry out the partial demolition of the house and this work is now taking place in order to make the site safe.
“If any residents need our support in the meantime, we’d urge them to contact us on 0345 675 1131.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Constabulary said: “We can confirm that a 24-year-old man from Accrington has been arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life and is being questioned, and that one other person had also come in to help us with our enquiries.”