MORE than 80 firefighters battled a suspected deliberate fire which ripped through a shop in an Eastbourne retail park.
Scores of people looked on as fire crews from across Sussex fought to control the fierce blaze at Boots in the Crumbles Retail Park on Saturday (December 10) at 8.30pm.
Huge clouds of smoke could be seen coming from the roof of the building and shoppers at both Asda and Next were evacuated.
Firefighters used aerial platforms to get to the roof and police moved people away from the area.
A spokesperson for East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service said, “An investigation has concluded the fire is most likely to have been caused by a deliberate act.”
Both Boots and Next suffered severe structural and smoke damage, while Matalan and Sports Direct were also blackened by smoke.
Sergeant Ed Ripley, who was at the scene, said, “When we got here it was quite evident it (the fire) had taken hold. There were two workers inside but no casualties thankfully.”
The fire was thought to have been put out at 2pm on Sunday (December 2) but firefighters returned to inspect the scene and found small pockets of flames still blazing. The incident was finally closed on Monday (December 13).
Detective Inspector Paul Phelps, of Eastbourne CID, said, “This was a very serious incident and luckily no-one was injured. However, four national businesses have all been badly damaged and at such a busy time of the year it will no doubt have a knock-on effect to the local economy.
“Forensic examinations are continuing to determine the cause of the fire, which is not yet known. We would like to hear from anyone who has any information about the cause of the fire or who saw any suspicious activity at the rear of the Boots store.”
Incident Commander Chris Baker, who spoke to staff of the stores affected, said, “When I handed the buildings back to the responsibility of the managers I reminded them of the importance of good housekeeping, which will help to reduce the risk of fire spreading. I told them to make sure no rubbish is left against the outside, or inside, of the building.
“I also reminded them to keep trading areas free of clutter within the shop, ensuring there is adequate means of escape.”
Police are appealing for witnesses.
Phone 0845 6070999 quoting serial 1477. Alternatively if callers wish to remain anonymous telephone Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.