SIXTY firefighters battled a blaze at a workshop in Copnor last night to stop it spreading to nearby homes.
Around 15 families were evacuated after flames took hold in the building and spread to the roof.
Two flats next to the garage were all but destroyed as the fire ripped through the ceiling of the workshop into the roof space of the homes.
Gas cylinders had been pulled from the garage and crews had feared they could have exploded.
David Butcher, 66, arrived at his Bosham Road home in Copnor, Portsmouth, to see flames pouring from the bedroom in his flat.
He said: ‘I’ve lost everything in my flat.
‘All I’ve got is what I’m dressed in. I’ve got nothing.
‘I saw the flames coming out the roof and saw the fire brigade putting it out.
He was out at the time at his granddaughter’s home when his landlord called telling him his flat had been damaged in the fire.
He added: ‘I’ve lost all my Christmas presents I’ve bought for this year and the Valentine’s Day presents I was going to give out on Saturday.
‘I’ll just stay at my daughter’s and go and get some more clothes.’
Another man had a narrow escape after his smoke alarm woke him from his bed in his flat adjoining the workshop.
Firefighters were called to the workshop at 8.38pm after the blaze started there and spread to nearby flats.
No-one was injured in the incident, which is not being treated as suspicious but the cause being investigated.
Twenty-two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus and using eight hose reels were used to tackle the flames.
Michal Borkowski, 32, owns the Harris Autos garage in Bosham Road where the blaze started.
He lives in a flat in Powerscourt Road next to the garage.
He said: ‘People were knocking on the door and telling me to come out the flats.
‘The flames were coming out really quickly and the roof was all on fire.’
The mechanic only set up his business in August and now estimates it will cost him around £5,000 in repairs and lost business.
He said his order sheet for today was full and was expecting to carry out repairs for customers.
He added: ‘I’m screwed to be honest. It was my first business.
‘It’s a tough life, I’ve only had it for about seven months.’
He added he had smelt a burning smell at around lunch time yesterday but could not find the source of it.
Late last night firefighters were breaking through the ceiling of the workshop to dampen down hotspots.
Other crews were on ladders in the roof space beating down embers in the aftermath of the blaze.
Ian Gardner, 54, of Powerscourt Road, saw the flames engulf the roof from his home.
He said: ‘The flames were a couple of feet when it started.
‘It spread into the roof, it was just smoke then it started breaking off and spreading from there.
‘It was just unbelievable. I’ve never known anything like this to happen.
‘It was burning quite well, the garage roof was gone in.
‘As they were trying to get the water on to the flames it went well up.
‘I was more worried about the people in the flats.’
An investigation has been launched into the cause of the fire.
Around 60 firefighters were involved in the incident.
The aerial ladder platform from Southsea was also used.
Teenager Ross Templeton, of Powerscourt Road, was evacuated with his mum from his flat by police.
He was one of many residents stood outside watching on as firefighters worked.
But the 17-year-old went back upstairs, looked out his kitchen window and saw the flames.
He said: ‘A policeman came in and told me to get out.
‘I looked through the kitchen and saw the fire. I didn’t realise how big the fire was.
‘I just saw the smoke outside. It looked like the fire service got it under control.’
Portsmouth City Council were out to help the people stuck outside of their homes.
Residents were told they faced a long wait to get back into their properties.
· Pictures and video by Jason Kay