POLICE are hunting an arsonist who started a huge house fire in St Austell, which they say could have killed neighbours living nearby.
The raging inferno ripped through the empty semi-detached house in Victoria Road, St Austell, on Wednesday evening.
The alarm was raised at 8.50pm and quickly engulfed the property.
It is believed the owner of the property was away at the time of the fire.
An investigation was launched on Thursday and is continuing.
Police inspector Tony Joslin said the fire was being treated as arson with intent to endanger life.
Mr Joslin said: "It's a really serious offence; one step down from murder because of the potential impact to life."
Extensive house-to-house enquiries have already been carried out and the police are now awaiting the results of a fire investigation.
Flames from the blaze swept through the building and began to spread to a neighbouring property, prompting the evacuation of the occupants.
One resident, who did not wish to be named, said: "I have never seen anything like this before. It is really upsetting. I am just glad no one was hurt."
Claire Stacey, who was passing when the fire broke out, added: "I can't believe how quickly it spread. The firefighters took control of the situation so quickly; they are amazing."
At the height of the fire more than 50 firefighters from across the county including, St Austell, Mevagissey, St Dennis and even from Launceston attended the scene to help contain the fire.
Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus went inside the building during the incident which lasted more than five hours.
Crews used an aerial ladder to tackle the fire with water from above in a bid to prevent it spreading. Cordons around the buildings were set up and the road was closed until the following day. Residents were told to close their windows and stay inside as the blaze raged.
Healthcare assistants Becky Hunt and Shauna Michael said they spotted the smoke and rushed out to see if they could provide first aid to find emergency services at the scene already.
"We thought if someone was hurt maybe we could help", said Miss Hunt.
The distraught occupants of the neighbouring property were too upset to talk to the Cornish Guardian at the time of the blaze.
Police officers from St Austell as well as Truro, Newquay and Bodmin were at the scene to make sure firefighters and the public were safe.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Constable Victoria Saunders on 101, quoting the crime reference number GA13/36/13.