An investigation is underway after a devastating blaze ripped through a derelict Blackpool hotel.
Detectives said they were treating the fire at the former Misterton hotel in Blundell Street, South Shore, as “suspicious” and have launched a joint probe with the fire service to try and find out who is responsible.
More than 30 firefighters from five different Fylde coast stations worked for almost four hours to put out the flames on Saturday.
Fire crews had to make their way past dangerous hazards such as missing floorboards and cluttered debris while they fought their way through the smoke-filled building, which has been abandoned for almost two years.
Watch manager Geoff Etheridge, from South Shore fire station, who was among the first to reach at the hotel after receiving a call at around 7pm.
He said: “The fire was coming through the roof and out of the windows of the property when we arrived.
“It was a serious fire with serious potential to spread right along the row.
“They are very difficult fires to tackle and very dangerous for the firefighters.
“It’s a very difficult job at the best of times but this is one that was particularly difficult.”
Engines from Bispham, Blackpool and St Annes also attended – along with the specialist aerial ladder platform from Blackpool.
Nearby residents and traders reported seeing youths vandalising the hotel’s windows in the days leading up to the fire.
Glen Wright, owner of the Lindale Cafe, on Dale Street, said: “There were kids there the day before putting the windows in.
“I went outside and could see where it was coming from straight away, it was well and truly going. It’s a stupid thing to do and it was just a shock to see the fire.”
Neighbours on nearby Princess Street have also told of vandals blighting Blundell Street.
Mark Collier, 40, said: “I was walking along there a few days ago and there were kids putting windows through on the houses.
“There are people living in some of them at the moment.
“You go to bed at night and they’re out there setting fire to this hotel.”
Chantel Brittain, 29, added: “I saw three small lads smashing the windows the other night.
“It was in broad daylight and they just didn’t seem to care what people were doing.”
Dave Singleton, 49, said: “They should demolish the lot.
“They’ve started smashing the windows and everything now.
“It was only a matter of time before this happened.”
Elizabeth Maples, 45, said: “We’ve only lived here for a year but it’s usually quiet.
“You don’t normally expect something like this here.”
Mr Etheridge has issued a stark warning to those responsible that they will face justice.
He added: “Along with the police we have a very good success rate in terms of actually catching people.
“This is not only endangering the lives of people living nearby but also the lives of firefighters.
“We take it very seriously and you will get a long custodial sentence for this.”
Blackpool station manager Sean Hennessy, who also attended the scene, said: “We do take a very serious stance with people who do mess with derelict buildings.
“The crews worked really hard to make sure all the pockets of fire had been put out before we left.”
Det Sgt Kathryn Riley, from Blackpool CID, who is leading the investigation, said she was not aware of any reports of vandalism at the site in the days leading up to the fire, but added the force would pursue it “in due course”.
She said: “The investigation is in a very early stage.
“We are pursuing a number of CCTV inquiries and talking to witnesses.
“We are appealing for anybody who has seen anybody acting suspiciously in or around the hotel to contact police.”
The building had ceased trading as a hotel in November 2012 and was compulsory purchased by Blackpool Council, along with most other properties on the street, with a view to it being demolished and rebuilt as part of the new Foxhall Village housing development.
Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member responsible for housing at the council, said: “I will make inquiries with officers with regards to what we can do straight away to tidy up the property and ensure that it’s safe.
“Obviously we’ll do our utmost to clear it as quickly as possible.
“We’re hoping the new building will take place soon too.”
Anyone with information about the fire is urged to call Blackpool Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.