ARSONISTS are thought to be behind a devastating blaze that tore through a row of shops.
The fire in Lavender Road, Waterlooville, completely destroyed a Tesco Express and Rowlands Pharmacy and left a Chinese takeaway badly damaged.
Residents praised the quick response of firefighters who arrived at about 2.30am on Saturday – shortly after the blaze started – and put it out before it could spread to the Kim & Laurie takeaway.
It’s believed the fire started in the Tesco Express, causing its roof to collapse as the flames spread to the next-door chemist.
Investigators are treating it as suspicious, although no official cause has been revealed.
It is the second Tesco in the area to be burned down in just over 12 months, following an arson attack in July last year on a shop in Grassmere Way, Cowplain.
The 19-year-old culprit was jailed for 16 months after he admitted deliberately starting the fire.
Now Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service insists that everyone convicted of arson can expect to face the same fate.
Spokesman Mark Brittain said: ‘There have been a number of fires at Tesco stores and these crimes carry high custody sentences.
‘The main point we really want to get across is that if it is arson, a lot of young people don’t realise how serious it is and they only realise when they get caught.
‘People get killed in fire, and these three businesses have been ruined. The consequences of deliberate fire-starting are very, very big.
‘Also our investigation teams have a 90 per cent success rate. If more people were aware of all this they would think twice before starting fires.’
Around 50 firefighters had to be called to battle the blaze. Fire engines came from Waterlooville, Cosham, Havant, Winchester, Horndean, Portchester and Emsworth.
People living nearby were woken in the early hours of the morning by the flames and had to be evacuated by police.
Stephen Hall, his wife Michala, 35, and their 12-year-old son Liam watched the blaze from their window further along Lavender Road.
The 38-year-old said: ‘Smoke was just pouring out of the burning Tesco and at one point we were sure the Chinese was going to go up as well.
‘All credit to the firefighters – they managed to put it out and save most of the takeaway. It was amazing to see.’
Son Liam added: ‘It was a shock to see Tesco burn down, I went in there all the time.
‘We watched it burning from the window – I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.’
Katrina Porter, 17, from Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, who was staying with her boyfriend in Lavender Road, said she saw two people hanging around outside the Tesco before the fire.
‘I’ve told the police,’ she said.
‘The two were teenagers and just stood around all day looking really shifty.’
Police spokeswoman Vicky O’Hare said: ‘Officers are working with colleagues from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to investigate the cause of the fire, which is being treated as suspicious.’
Call Waterlooville CID on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.