Frightened residents have urged the public to “shop” an arsonist who went on a fire-raising spree through their neighbourhood late at night.
Two houses, a grocery store and two cars were all damaged as the culprit made his way through the Deepdale area of Preston lighting fires at will.
One family only managed to get out of their house after being woken by an explosion in a blazing car which spread to their kitchen roof.
And the owner of the shop said: “I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d been living above the store when he set it alight. I don’t think I could have got out.”
Police have appealed for information to help identify a man, caught on CCTV, who is believed to have started all the fires.
And two of the residents affected have urged anyone who knows anything to come forward to prevent a repeat of the terrifying attack.
“Lives could have been lost here,” said shopkeeper Shamshad Hussain. “It seems this man was on a mission to cause as much damage as he could.”
Police say they received a string of 999 calls from the area reporting fires around 5.15am on Good Friday.
The first was to wheelie bins in Castleton Road, then an address in the same street suffered damage to a window and frame when rubbish was lit beneath it.
The nearby grocer’s Hussain and Sons was hit moments later when the culprit torched a display stand outside the front window, causing thousands of pounds of damage to stock inside the premises.
A BMW car parked outside the shop was also damaged by the heat from the blaze.
The same man is believed to have started a fire in a green Toyota car parked in an alleyway behind Hawkhurst Road. The blaze was so intense the vehicle was completely gutted and the flames spread to the rear of a terraced house.
Sadiq Patel, whose family were asleep in the house, said: “The gate into the alleyway must have been open and he decided to torch a car which was parked right behind the back of our house.
“The flames caught hold on the roof of our kitchen and set it alight. Fortunately my wife heard a big bang, which must have been the car exploding, and woke up.
“There were flames on the kitchen roof and smoke inside the kitchen. We rang 999 and managed to get out.
“The fire brigade were brilliant. They got here straight away - they said they were already on their way to another call out in the neighbourhood. They put the fire out, although they had to rip parts of the roof off to make sure it was properly out.
“We may have to have all the roof replaced. But fortunately no-one was hurt. It could have been a whole lot worse if my wife hadn’t heard that bang. We might have been trapped inside a burning building.
“We’ve talked to other people who were targeted in the area and it seems whoever did it just went on a crazy spree setting fire to anything he could find. He needs catching.”
Round the corner in Castleton Road, the arsonist set fire to display shelving outside Hussain and Sons grocery shop. A man was caught on CCTV stooping down to start the blaze.
Shopkeeper Shamshad Hussain, who lived in the flat above the shop until recently, said: “If I had still been there I would have struggled to get out. We have grills on the windows.
“We have watched the CCTV and this bloke was clearly on a mission to cause as much damage as he could. He showed no hesitation at all. He just walked up, bent down and set the shelving alight.
“And even worse, when it didn’t look like it was burning well enough, he went away and came back with some cardboard to help get it going.
“There could have been someone in the building, but he didn’t bother about that at all. He wasn’t concerned about life.
“For a person to do such a thing, he has no humanity inside him. Lives could have been lost here. But thankfully no-one was hurt.
“The community around here have been great. They have all come together to do what they can for the people affected.”
Police have appealed for anyone with information about the fires to contact them on 101 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.