A BLAZE ripped through an Eastbourne business in the early hours of Friday morning.
A number of men fled the burning building and neighbouring homes had to be evacuated after the fire broke out in Prestige Car Valeting in Marine Road at around 5am.
Fire crews from Eastbourne, Hailsham, Pevensey and Bexhill rushed to the scene along with police officers, detectives and ambulance crews as huge flames and thick acrid black smoke filled the narrow street which runs parallel with Seaside.
Motorists faced minor delays during the commute to work as traffic was diverted and roads around the area were closed up until lunchtime as forensic experts searched for clues as to how the fire started.
It is believed to have started in an office at the rear of the business, which was opened by Ben Delrosario just four months ago.
Mr Delrosario was at the scene on Friday morning and looked visibly shaken. He said, “When I arrived there was smoke everywhere. I have only been running the business for four months. I just don’t know how I feel at the moment.”
Two of the people who fled to safety from the burning flat above the car valeting business were Shahid Muzaffar and Mahran Zahid, both from Pakistan. They were checked over by ambulance staff for breathing problems after inhaling smoke.
Shahid, 24, said, “We heard the sound of breaking glass which is what woke us up and the flat was filled with black smoke. We put on shoes and ran downstairs and out of the door into Leaf Hall Road and called the fire brigade.”
Mahran said the group felt lucky to be alive. “It was awful,” he said. “All our possessions were in the flat. We only have what we are standing up in now.”
As firefighters tackled the blaze, guest houses opposite were evacuated and residents gathered at the bottom of the street in St Aubyn’s Road.
At the Mermaid Guest House, guests Helen Gardner and Sue Malyan heard the fire, saw flames enveloping the building opposite from their first floor bedroom and ran to wake up other guests and owners Neil and their family.
Helen then ran out into the street and called up to the occupants of the flat to get out. “I saw the bright orange flames so quickly got dressed and started knocking on doors to get everybody up and out,” said 32-year-old Helen, who works at the Lansdowne Hotel.
“Sue rang 999 while I ran out. I was standing in the street shouting up to them that the building was on fire and they needed to get out. It was very bad in the road, there was smoke everywhere.”
Fire watch commander John Owen was at the scene and said firefighters from four fire engines from Eastbourne, Hailsham and Pevensey began dousing the flames while others tried to account for everybody in neighbouring buildings.
Reinforcements were sent in from Bexhill and Seaford and firefighters spent several hours at the scene before fire investigators arrived to determine the cause of the fire.