Colchester: Families evacuated in ‘suspicious’ car park blaze

FAMILIES had to be evacuated from their smoke-logged homes after a blaze stated in a car park underneath a block of flats.

An investigation has now been launched into the cause of the fire in St Peter’s Street, Colchester, which could have been started deliberately.

A 25-year-old man of no fixed address has been arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and was yesterday being questioned by officers at Colchester Police Station.

More than 20 people, including children, who live in the flats at Claudius Court, were woken by a smoke alarm at about 2.30am yesterday morning after a number of cars in the underground car park caught fire.

Natalie Evans, 30, a nursery work, said: “When I went downstairs there was smoke everywhere and lots of firemen.

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“Two of the cars that have been burnt out belong to me and my partner. I’m shocked and gutted. I burst into tears when I heard, I’ve only had that car for about a year.

“My partner Ralph Morris is out of the country at the moment and I haven’t told him that his car has gone up as well.”

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David Eade, 36, who makes technical drawings, said: “Living in a block of flats the fire alarm does go off once in a while and it’s a false alarm. When I heard it I looked outside and saw everybody running across the road so I knew it was for real.

“The car park was well alight and was billowing out smoke – it looked horrendous. All the electric has been melted and we haven’t got any electricity.

“I don’t know how the fire started but I had heard that someone had phoned the police 15 minutes before it started and reported suspicious behaviour.”

Kevin Delves, 35, who works at Essex County Council and has lived in the flats for five years, said: “I hadn’t been in bed long when the alarm went off and had to go outside with everybody else.

“We were quite concerned about some of the flats because we didn’t know if people were out or if they were still inside and hadn’t heard the alarm.

“There was a lot of smoke and I was worried that the whole place was going to go up.”

Station Officer Joe Hassell, of Colchester fire station, said: “The car park is located underneath a block of 18 flats situated over three storeys. Most residents had evacuated from their properties before the crews had arrived as the fire had triggered the fire alarm system to activate in the block, alerting people that there was a fire.

“Approximately 20 people in total, including some children, were kept warm in the back of the fire appliances while the crews tackled the blaze in the car park.

“Whilst crews tackled the fire, other crew members made a search of the block of flats to check that all the residents had evacuated from their properties.”

Six fire engines attended the incident and crews used a high-pressure fan to ventilate smoke from the building. Residents were allowed back into their flats at about 4am and electricity is expected to be fixed by today (Saturday).

The cars destroyed in the blaze were a Ford Fiesta, a Land Rover Freelander, a Chrysler Voyager and a Vauxhall Corsa.

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