ELDERLY residents have told how they were confronted by a three-storey wall of fire right outside their living room windows, following a suspected arson attack on a car parked beneath their block of flats.
Douglas and Audrey Arthur were in bed at their first-floor home at the Seabank flats on Marine Road in Alnmouth when they were awoken by the sound of an explosion just before 4am on Tuesday.
Just feet below, Mr Arthur could see flames erupting from the back of a Ford Galaxy estate car and phoned the emergency services.
But realising that his neighbour Jack Yeadon’s car was parked right next to it, he went to wake him so he could reverse his vehicle out of the way before it also ignited.
However, in the minutes that followed, a motorhome parked on the other side of the burning car also caught fire and the combined force of the blaze caused a wall of flames to shoot up as high as the third floor of the building, engulfing the glazed verandas.
A police patrol in the Alnmouth beach area had also spotted clouds of smoke and called for help.
The first fire engine on scene, from Alnwick, requested back-up and two further crews, including one from Amble, responded.
Four hose reels were used to tackle the blaze, as well as firefighters equipped with breathing apparatus.
As life returned to normal in the quiet seaside community on Tuesday morning, police forensic detectives and fire investigators searched the wreckage of the vehicles for clues as to the cause of the fire.
Northumbria Police has since confirmed that arson is suspected.
War veteran Mr Arthur said: “I heard this loud bang, the sound of glass exploding, and saw the back of the estate car was on fire. I phoned for a fire engine and then went to get Jack to shift his car, because it was parked between the estate car and the wall.”
Mrs Arthur said: “By the time the fire engines got here the whole car was well away and by the time they got water on it, the big van was also well away. The fire cracked the window so I made sure the door to the veranda was shut and pulled the curtains closed so that if the windows blew in at least the curtains would keep the glass out of the living room.
“The double glazing stopped a lot of the smoke from coming in. It’s 10 years since we had the windows double-glazed and I’m glad we did it.”
The destroyed motorhome belonged to Mr Yeadon’s daughter, Debbie Dawson, who lives in nearby Hipsburn.
She said: “My dad rang at around 4am but we missed the call.”
She dialled 1471 to check the number and realised it was her father’s.
“We were really concerned that something had happened to him. We came flying down here and saw the fire engine and police outside. It was a massive relief when we saw him standing outside in his dressing gown,” she said.
“The heat of the fire must have been incredible. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of Mr Arthur, who hammered on dad’s door and woke him up, his car would have gone up in flames as well and who knows what would have happened.”
Jimmy Campbell, who lives on the third floor with partner Sally Miller, is chairman of the Alnmouth Property Community Fund, which manages and maintains the flats.
He said: “I heard a racket outside and went to the window. I saw the flames were above the window and thought that’s it, get out of here. It was sheer hell.”
As he left, Mr Campbell went to help a second floor resident – described as a frail pensioner – escape from the building.
Miss Miller added: “It was terrifying. When all you see is a wall of flame outside the window, you don’t know where the source is. All we could see was fire, a wall of fire shooting up past our window.”
Police have arrested a man in connection with the incident and he is currently helping with their enquiries.
Anyone who was in the Marine Road area of Alnmouth between 3.30am and 4am on Tuesday morning and who saw anything suspicious is asked to contact police on 03456 043 043 ext 69191 or the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.