RESIDENTS have spoken of their fear after a fire was deliberately started at a family home.

Detectives leading the investigation said it was lucky no one was injured in the blaze that started in the kitchen of the property.

Officers believe the arsonists broke in while the young family were visiting relatives and put a sofa cushion on a gas hob before it was lit.

The family raised the alarm after returning to their detached property on Shirley Avenue in Southampton and hearing the smoke alarm sounding.

They opened the door to find smoke billowing from the kitchen and called the fire service.

A section of Shirley Avenue was cordoned off on Sunday evening while two fire engines battled the fire that was taking hold in the kitchen.

Investigation The fire was contained in the kitchen but the home has been badly smoke damaged, say police.

A police cordon was in place around the home in the leafy residential street while Hampshire Fire and Rescue’s Arson Task Force team carried out a detailed investigation with detectives from Shirley CID.

Police community support officers spent yesterday guarding the crime scene.

A rear window was found to have been smashed and police were yesterday investigating whether the arsonist entered through it.

Meanwhile neighbours spoke of their shock over the incident.

Pensioner Irene Johnston, who lives next door, said: “It is shocking isn’t it?

They are as nice as anyone can be.

“There was such a crowd looking but I never knew what was going on until the firemen told me.”

Neighbour Michael Ridgewell, a 21- year-old engineer, said: “I saw smoke coming from their garden but I thought it might be a barbecue. Then I saw fire engines and it was 10 to 15 minutes before it was out.”

Mr Ridgewell said he was shocked that the family would be targeted in such a way.

He said: “It’s hard to think they would be on the wrong side of anyone.

“It is normally dead quiet on this road and a quite a nice place to live.”

It is thought the fire broke out sometime between 4pm when the family were out visiting relatives and before they returned at about 7.45pm on Sunday.

Daily Echo:

Neighbour Michael Ridgewell

Detective constable Lucy Stewart, from Shirley police station, said: “This was a very serious and dangerous incident – it is extremely lucky that no one was hurt.

“I am appealing for anyone with any information about this incident to come forward and speak to us, to help us find the person or people responsible.”

She added it was believed to be an isolated incident but urged the public to be vigilant.

Anyone with any information can contact Shirley police station by calling 101.