A DEVASTATED father has told of the dramatic moment when his family fled their Southampton home in their pyjamas following a suspected arson attack in the early hours.

Darren Hinson and his wife were forced to grab their young daughters and rush downstairs when he awoke to find flames engulfing the front of their semi-detached house in the Bitterne area.

But the family became trapped in their back garden with the girls shivering and in tears in the rain as the blaze threatened to spread to the rest of the house.

Now he has thanked quick-thinking neighbours who helped rescue and care for them as he revealed they are “lucky to be alive”.

It comes as police are today step up their investigation into the blaze after launching an arson probe.

The fire took hold shortly before 4am yesterday when the a motorbike parked next to the building in Brook Road caught alight and the flames quickly spread to the ground floor of the house.

Mr Hinson, 41, said he awoke after hearing a series of “bangs” and said: “It sounded like fireworks, or hail and my wife said it sounded like it was raining inside. Then I saw the flames and we had to get everybody out as fast as we could. We were in the back garden and could hear the neighbours calling to us but couldn’t get out.”

Neighbour Victoria Oakey helped lead the couple and their daughters, six and 11, to safety through a side gate in her garden and they were sheltered by another neighbour.

Ms Oakey, who evacuated her home with her 18-month-old son, said: “The family were in the rain and were in shock. The girls were in tears. I told them to come with me. The neighbours were fantastic and got blankets and warm clothes for the kids.”

“At the time I was on autopilot but afterwards I felt emotional as it could have been a lot worse if they had not woken up in time.”

Mr Hinson thanked them and said: “The neighbours have been fantastic. It is humbling and it makes you feel lucky that you are part of a community.”

“The worst bit is seeing your house and possessions going up in flames in front of your eyes.

“But I am really grateful that we weren’t inside at the time.”

Crews from Hightown and St Mary’s stations tackled the blaze.

Firefighters were hampered in the early stages due to cars parked on double yellow lines, triggering the use of longer 100m hoses. which meant the crews had to run 100m of hoses along the road to reach the property.

The fire gutted the porch and hallway while the rest of the house is smoke logged. Ms Oakey’s home also sustained smoke damage.

A police spokesman said the blaze is being treated as “suspicious”.