ARSONISTS have been accused of putting lives at risk by causing an explosion at a Southampton bar that is next door to student flats.

The culprits scaled a brick wall surrounding the bar’s beer garden and poured petrol onto wooden decking just yards from 42 apartments where students were sleeping.

The fire triggered a blast that sent blazing debris hurtling into the air and could be heard for miles around.

Police and fire crews from across the city were called to The Sobar in Bevois Valley Road in the early hours of Saturday.

The neighbouring Blue Box Apartments were evacuated amid fears that the flames could spread to the five-storey block.

No-one was hurt but police investigating the blaze say the consequences could have been “much worse”.

A discarded petrol can was found in the street outside the bar.

Now owner Neville Virgin, 55, is offering a cash reward for information leading to the conviction of those involved in the arson attack, which he described as a “stupid, senseless act”.

“I desperately want them caught,” he said. “They caused a massive explosion that could have killed someone. Debris from the blast actually landed on the roof of the flats. The more you think about it the more it beggars belief.”

The family-run student bar was closed when the blaze broke out just after 3am. A party due to have been held in the beer garden on Saturday evening had to be cancelled leaving 400 guests disappointed.

About 30 firefighters from four stations – Eastleigh, Hightown, St Mary’s and Redbridge – tackled the blaze.

The main building was unaffected but the fire reduced most of the beer garden to a charred ruin, causing thousands of pounds of damage.

A discarded petrol can was found in the narrow side street between The Sobar and the Bevois Valley branch of Aldi.

Detective Constable Steve Thomas of Southampton CID said: “We’re in the early stages of our investigation but at this time we believe the fire was caused deliberately.

“This was a large fire and we received many calls at the time from members of the public.

“Fortunately the bar was closed at the time of the fire and no-one was injured but the circumstances could have been much worse.”

Ring Southampton CID on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.