POLICE are hunting arsonists after a string of attacks in a Southampton community.

Residents were evacuated from their homes in Bitterne when a fire spread through two ground floor flats in the early hours of yesterday morning.

A resident was sleeping at the Hood Road flats when the fire broke out and managed to escape after the smoke alarm sounded.

Flames were then seen billowing from a van parked less than half a mile away, damaging a vehicle next to it.

Robert Warner had spent a fortnight renovating his new flat at Hood Road and was due to move in yesterday but found it had been damaged in the arson attack.

His neighbour, described by residents as a man in his 40s, escaped from the blaze after being woken by his fire alarm when the fire started between 2.20am and 2.40am.

Mr Warner told the Daily Echo: “I had got the flat looking superb. Then I walked up here and saw it was taped off. I couldn’t believe it.”

Dad-of-two Michael Culwick, of Nomad Close, was woken by his neighbours at about 3.30am when the fire broke out in his company van parked on nearby Edelvale Road.

The blaze spread to dad-of-three Chris Berghauzen’s Renault Trafic van which was parked in front.

The 48-year-old builder, of Nomad Close, bought the van six months ago to use for work after his last one was damaged by the winter floods.

Officers have confirmed they are linking the weekend’s incidents. Last night forensic teams continued to scour the area whilst a team of ten officers carried out door to door enquiries.

Det Sgt Will Whale, the officer in charge of the case, said it was too early to say whether the properties were deliberately targeted or whether they were random attacks.

“On this occasion nobody was injured, but this could have been much more serious. I would ask any members of the public who saw or heard anything at either of these locations to contact Bitterne CID on 101 as soon as possible.”