ARSONISTS are being blamed for a blaze that could force plans to reopen a popular Southampton live music venue to be put on hold.
Fire crews were called to the Talking Heads after neighbours spotted flames leaping 20 feet into the air from the rear of the property.
The new owners hoped the pub would open its doors to punters again next month, just three months after it was feared it had closed for good.
As reported in the Daily Echo, more than 4,000 people backed a campaign to save the Portswood Road venue in January, before two city businessmen stepped in to take on the lease.
After time refurbishing the 260-capacity pub to bring it up to scratch, they had only just confirmed the reopening night would be on Friday, April 13.
But one of the duo, Martin White yesterday admitted that much-anticipated date may now have to be put back because of Tuesday night’s blaze, which started in a pile of furniture left next to the back door, but quickly spread to the flat roof of the pub.
Fire crews from St Mary’s and Hightown spent nearly four hours at the scene after being called at 11.20pm by a neighbour who spotted flames leaping from the pub.
Firefighters used breathing apparatus to get inside smoke-filled building to check it was empty.
Mr White, 53, who teaches live event production at Southampton Solent University, said firefighters managed to stop the blaze causing any serious structural damage.
He told the Daily Echo: “It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s not anything that can’t be fixed.
“We’re very lucky. They reckon another 10 or 15 minutes it would have got hold and could have been very serious.
“We were steaming ahead, well on time, but I really don’t know what will happen now. There might be some damage we can’t see.
“It’s feasible we’ll still open on time, but it might have to be put back a week at most.
“It hasn’t spoiled morale though, and we’ve already had people offering to help clear it up.
“Someone stacked stuff against the back wall, near the door. That’s not how it was left, so it’s blatantly obvious it was deliberate.
“We’re totally baffled as to who would do it, or why.”
Police cordoned off the scene yesterday as specialist fire investigators from Hampshire’s arson task force examined the scene in the hunt for clues as to how the blaze started.
Mr White and his school friend business partner Guy Benfield, 54, an archaeology student at the University of Southamp-ton, have been carrying our remedial and refurbishment work including renovating the toilets and beer cellar, ahead of their planned reopening next month featuring four local bands.
Over the years the Talking Heads has hosted acts including The Script, The Damned, Juliette Lewis, The New York Dolls and Southampton-based trio Band Of Skulls.