FIRE chiefs have warned that deliberate fires set in empty houses ‘could kill’ after a suspected arson attack which narrowly avoided spreading to neighbouring houses.

Rubbish was set alight and flames spread through the ground floor of an unoccupied house in Brierfield.

Neighbours of the terrace property, in Townley Street, raised the alarm after seeing the flames and smoke.

Residents said the house has been empty for a number of years and has been targeted by fly-tippers and firebugs repeatedly.

One neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s not the first time this has happened and it’s dangerous. I worry about my safety, and the safety of my family. It could have happened in the middle of the night. Next door, all the windows downstairs were boarded up and they have been set alight, and so has the back door.”

Firefighters from Nelson were called at 6.40pm on Wednesday and spent an hour tackling the blaze.

Crew manager Rob Barker, from Nelson fire station, said: “The fire could have easily spread to one of the neighbour’s homes.”

Figures from Lancashire Fire and Rescue show it was the 130th arson attack on a derelict property in Pendle, Burnley and Rossendale since the start of 2010.

Jerry Cragg, community protection manager for Pennine fire service, said: “In the last few years, we have been working hard with partner agencies to reduce the number of deliberate fires in derelict properties. Despite this we are still seeing a small number of these fires that could have tragic consequences.

“Not only do these fires take a significant amount of time for firefighters to deal with, there is also a potential for the fire to spread to other properties which may not be derelict.”

Coun Naeem Hussain Ashraf, who represents Brierfield, raised concerns for the families living nearby.

He added: “All efforts should be made to keep these properties secure or they could become death traps.

“Thankfully the fire service got there in time and did a brilliant job but if the next fire’s not noticed in time someone could easily be killed or seriously hurt.”