Flats arson blaze put family at risk.
They targeted a storage area full of highly inflammable material in a stairwell in Norfolk Court on the Lakes Estate, Redcar, early today.
It spread quickly and burned through windows of a flat - sending thick, acrid smoke billowing inside.
The fire was started on stairs between two first floor flats. Neighbours say the daughter of a family who were on holiday was evacuated from one property.
The other property was unoccupied.
Police broke the front window of an adjoining ground floor flat to wake a couple and their two babies who had slept through the commotion.
Emergency services were called to the scene at about 12.45am.
Resident Lyndsey Iredale, 33, has lived facing the flats for nine years with her three children.
She said: "I was woken about 1.30am by the noise of police trying to get people out of the flats.
"The fire brigade was already here - there was smoke billowing out.
"The police broke the front window of a flat to get a family out - they hadn't heard them banging on the doors."
Three fire engines - two from Redcar and one from Grangetown were sent to the blaze.
Redcar station watch manager Simon Weastell said the blaze could have led to a fatality if the flat had been occupied.
"If there had been someone in that flat - it doesn't bear thinking about," he said. "When we got there it was clear the flat was involved. The fire was so intense it broke though two upstairs windows and heavily smoke-logged the flat.
"We broke in and sent two breathing-set wearers in.
"Police met us at the incident and woke up a family of four.
"We believe the cause is deliberate."
Police were investigating. Call Cleveland Police on 01642 302626.
Crews in Middlesbrough were called to three fires believed to have been set deliberately in unoccupied houses last night.
There were reports someone may have been trapped in a blazing terrace house in Princess Road when crews arrived at about 7.15pm.
But a thorough search by four firefighters in breathing sets revealed it was empty.
Crews were called at about 9.30pm to an unoccupied house in Kingston Street. And arsonists forced their way through shutters of a boarded-up house in Stockton Street just before 11pm to set it alight.
BLAZE: The block of flats in Norfolk Close, on Redcar's Lakes Estate, which was targeted by arsonists Picture by PETER BENN