ARSONISTS set fire to a Southampton family home where a man was sleeping inside.

The 27-year-old man was woken by the smoke alarm and went downstairs to find the staircase and hallway filled with smoke and spotted flames coming from a rag, which had been pushed through the letterbox and petrol on the floor.

Police say had the fire spread, it could have been life threatening.

The man, who is a lodger at the family home, managed to put out the flames and call 999 just after 1am on Monday morning.

Firefighters from St Mary’s spent an hour at the scene making sure the property was safe while a crowd of about 25 people gathered outside the home.

Last night detectives issued an appeal for any information to find the criminals responsible.

The couple who own the home were on holiday in Spain when the attack happened and their lodger was the only person there in Brighton Road.

They cut short their holiday to return back home as specialist fire investigators and police officers have combed the scene for evidence.

Speaking at their home the lodger, who the Daily Echo is not naming, said: “The smell of the petrol was horrific. Luckily I saw it because if the fire had spread the whole house could have gone up.

“A police officer said to me ‘how you are still here is unbelievable’ and it makes you realise how scary this is.”

The home owners told the Daily Echo they had no idea why they were targeted sometime between 12.40am and 1.15am on Monday.

The 42-year-old woman, who did not want to be named, said: “Whoever it was intended to do serious harm to us and our home and we hope they are found before they strike twice.

“The police have been very supportive but once something like this happens, how can you feel safe in your own home? All sorts of thoughts go through your mind.”

Police have carried out house to house inquiries and have distributed appeal leaflets in the area as neighbours have spoken of their shock of the arson.

One said: “We heard some commotion and saw the firefighters there. It is terrifying.

The consequences are not worth thinking about and it doesn’t make you feel safe sleeping.”

Detectives are appealing for anyone who saw a person, people or unfamiliar vehicles in the Brighton Road area shortly before the time of the incident.

Detective Constable Janine Bradley said: “This is being treated as arson to endanger life.

“The incident could have been life threatening, if the household did not have effective smoke alarms, as the fire was during the night while occupants slept.

“The fire had the potential to block an essential escape route from the premises.

“We are actively seeking information from the public about why this happened and who might have done it.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact DC Bradley at Bitterne CID on 101 Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.