FAMILIES fled in terror after an arsonist set light to his 13th floor flat in a high-rise block lived in by hundreds of people, a court heard.
Residents of Handsworth House, in Somers Town, were forced to evacuate as the stairways filled with smoke when Peter Arrandale lit 10 balls of screwed- up newspaper in his flat on September 29 last year.
Arrandale, 60, had left the 18-storey block when 60 firefighters arrived at 3.46am to tackle the blaze.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard a dad and his three young children who lived next to Arrandale were forced to try and flee through their kitchen window due to smoke filling the building. Most people were able to get themselves out.
Five people were taken to hospital, including three experienced firefighters suffering from heat exhaustion and two residents with smoke inhalation.
Now Arrandale, who was detained in Ravenswood psychiatric unit then moved to a prison, has been jailed for six years.
Sentencing, judge Stephen Climie said: ‘In September last year you were seriously depressed. That does not, of course, excuse what you set about doing in your flat in Handsworth House, but it certainly explains what might have been going on in your mind.’
He added: ‘It’s fortunate that there was nothing more severe in terms of injury or indeed the risk, as there inevitably is in such cases, of someone dying in such a fire.’
Daniel Sawyer, prosecuting, said: ‘There were 10 seats of fire with newspaper having been screwed up. Only five of those had taken hold.
‘Arrandale wasn’t there, but he handed himself in the following day to Portsmouth Central police station. He admitted starting the fires.
‘Andrew Earle, who prepared the investigators’ report, says that there was great danger to persons from the fire and those included the possibility of a backdraft.’
Backdraft, caused when lots of oxygen flows into a fire when a door is opened, has killed firefighters in other cases.
Around £43,425 worth of damage was caused, including council costs of £1,120.
The court heard Arrandale was depressed at the time, but no further details were given in open court about why he set the blaze.
‘I have instructions not to put forward mitigation to your honour which may reduce the sentence,’ Louisa Bagley, mitigating for Arrandale, said.
She said he turned gas off in the flat, handed himself in and was ‘ashamed’.
ndale, who has no pervious convictions, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.