DETECTIVES are trying to track down those responsible for an arson attack in Wadebridge which could have endangered the lives of people living close to the blaze.
A number of residents had to be evacuated from the Polmorla Road area after the fire broke out in a derelict metal building behind a former butcher's shop on Saturday night.
Detectives say that with high winds fanning the flames, it was only the prompt action of firefighters which prevented a major incident occurring.
The extent of the blaze caused Wadebridge fire crews to be joined by firefighters from Bodmin, Padstow, St Austell, Launceston and St Dennis.
Several 999 calls were made by residents at around 9.20pm on Saturday night and the last fire crew did not leave the scene until 2am on Sunday morning.
Due to the high winds fuelling the fire, residents from nearby properties were evacuated for a time, with Wadebridge Town Hall opened to accommodate them.
Witness and former Cornish Guardian reporter, Emma Wherry, 32, who lives in Trevanion Road, said: "My boyfriend and I were watching television when we heard a siren right outside. When we looked out of our window, we could just see lots of thick smoke and hot embers falling onto the roof of our property.
"We grabbed our shoes and ran outside and at first thought it might have been the cinema or social club on fire but as we ran along Glen Road we saw it was the old shed behind Polmear Court.
"At first I was quite scared as the fire was cracking and the building was well alight – it was even catching the top of a tree on fire which must be over 20ft high.
"As we got closer we saw the emergency services and people were being evacuated – it must have been terrifying for them. My boyfriend was called to help a fireman lift a car out of the way to get to the water supply and more and more emergency services were turning up including special investigation units and the crowd of people was growing.
"I had a phone call from a friend who lives in Egloshayle wondering what was happening as he could see the fire from there – it's the biggest fire Wadebridge has seen since the Molesworth Street blaze about ten years ago,'' said Ms Wherry.
It was only after senior fire officers were satisfied there was no risk to local residents that people were allowed to return to their homes.
A police forensic team was in Polmorla Road on Sunday examining the scene for clues as to how the fire was started and who may have been responsible for the arson attack.
Detective Constable Ian Jolliff of Bodmin CID, said: "This fire posed a risk to neighbouring residential properties and only the prompt action of the fire service has prevented this from becoming a major incident.
"This fire is being treated as arson and we are appealing for any witnesses or information from the public as to who is responsible for this damage.''
Anyone with information should contact Bodmin CID on 101, reference BW/14/63 or alternatively call the confidential Crimestoppers line on 0800 555111.