A 17-YEAR-OLD from Exmouth has been arrested on suspicion of attempted arson after a bungalow was gutted in a fire that threatened the lives of the fire fighters who tackled it.
The teenager was arrested the morning after the blaze at a property on Kay Close in Withycombe.
He was also arrested for burglary, theft and criminal damage.
Residents in the quiet Exmouth cul-de-sac recalled watching their neighbour's home burn down.
No one was hurt in the blaze, which took around 30 firefighters more than six hours to tackle at around 8pm on Thursday, August 8.
The male occupant of the East Devon District Council owned property was at first feared by residents and firefighters to be inside – but he was not.
Residents say they saw the male occupant being taken to hospital several days before the fire but did not know if he had returned.
A council spokesperson confirmed they are assisting the tenant in finding alternative accommodation.
Andrew Stacey, who is the son of Kay Close resident Kathleen Bunting, has been praised by neighbours for rescuing a disabled lady who lives in a nearby property.
They described how the 23-year-old from Exeter went into the woman's home and lifted her out of her bed and into a wheelchair and made sure she was safe.
Andrew, said: "I saw smoke coming through the roof so rang 999 and then ran over to the house.
"At this point the windows started exploding. That was quite scary.
"Someone shouted to me that he wasn't in, so I went to alert the other neighbours.
"The carer of the lady I helped out told me she usually uses a winch to get out of bed, but there was no time for this so I told her to hug me so I could lift her out and into a wheelchair.
"She was really grateful. I just acted on instinct, I think anyone would have done the same."
"He was outstanding," added Sue Williams, 57, who was one of the residents who was evacuated. "Andrew didn't hesitate, he went straight in to help her.
"We're still getting over the shock. I saw red flames shooting out of the back and thought any minute I was going to be watching my home burn down. It was quite upsetting.
"I was watching TV just after 8pm when I heard a bang, like something exploding.
"Then I smelled smoke, like a bonfire, so I thought I should close my door, then looked out and saw all this black smoke billowing out from the window.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was worried he was still in there."
Fire crews were subjected to the "hottest temperatures in years" as they searched the property. Crews from Exmouth, Middlemoor, Topsham and Sidmouth attended.
Watch Commander Nigel Alford was one of the first on the scene and said it was recognised as a "flash over" incident. This term is used when the severity of a fire passes over a certain threshold and is high risk, for example when everything inside a property is combusting.
"This was a severe fire with challenging conditions," he added.
"Because we thought someone could still be in the property we sent eight firefighters inside, who then carried out offensive fire fighting.
"Once we knew there was no one inside the crew withdrew and tackled the fire from the outside.
"Because the fire had spread into the roof space it could easily have spread further, and we were worried it could have caught along the whole row of four bungalows.
"This could have been a lot worse.
"This was the hottest fire we've had to deal with in Exmouth for a number of years.
"The crews responded really well in difficult conditions, using all the correct techniques."
Anyone who has any information is urged to call police on 101, quoting crime reference number KE13/1826.