Early-hours Exeter arson attack in flats stairwell leaves residents trapped by smoke

An arsonist struck at flats in Exeter in the early hours of Tuesday morning (August 11), setting fire to stairs, trapping people in their homes.

The fire was started deliberately at the bottom of communal stairs of flats in Grasmere Court, Lakelands Drive, Exwick, Exeter, forcing residents to stay inside their homes because of the smoke below.

No one was injured in the blaze. Police say they are treating the fire as arson and have begun a joint investigation with the fire service.

The fire service stayed on the phone to the resident who raised the alarm, giving advice and reassurance, while crews tackled the blaze below.

Crews from Middlemoor and Danes Castle stations, in Exeter, were called to the three-storey flats at around 1.40am, where they found a fire had been lit in the downstairs communal stairwell.

Crews wore breathing apparatus while tackling the blaze, then cleared smoke from the building after the flames were extinguished.

The blaze caused smoke damage as far up as the first floor.

A Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) spokesperson said: “A fire control operator stayed on the phone to the caller to provide advice until crews arrived as occupants were unable to vacate the property due to the smoke.”

They added: “The fire was located in the ground floor communal area, which resulted in occupants being unable to vacate the building.  All persons were accounted for and uninjured.”

The fire service said: “The cause of the fire was believed to have been deliberate.  Police also attended.

“Police and Fire Investigation will attend later on today to carry out further investigations.”

Fire crews responded after receiving reports smoke was coming from the Grasmere Court flats in the early hours of the morning.

Firefighters tackled the blaze with jets, thermal imaging cameras, a gas detection monitor, and ventilation fans to clear smoke from the building.

DSFRS said fire and smoke damage was clearly evident in the ground floor communal area.

The DSFRS spokesperson said: “On arrival, crews confirmed this to be a fire in the communal stairwell of the building.

“Crews entered the property with four breathing apparatus wearers, two hose reel jets, two covering jets and two thermal imaging cameras.”

They added: “The building sustained approximately fifty per cent fire damage to the communal area on the ground floor and one hundred per cent smoke damage. There was twenty-five per cent smoke damage to the first floor.”

A Devon and Cornwall Police spokeswoman said: “Police are treating a fire which started in the communal area of Grasmere Court flats on Lakelands Drive, Exwick, in the early hours of this morning, as arson.”

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