DETECTIVES are investigating a deliberate fire which closed one of Edinburgh’s busiest arterial routes for more than nine hours.
At least 70 firefighters battled the blaze in the Newington area of the capital in the early hours of Thursday morning, with 12 people rescued from their homes during the operation.
Fire crews were called to the incident at about 5:20am after residents saw smoke and flames rising from the rear of a building on South Clerk Street, one of the main roads into the city centre from the south.
Fire chiefs said they were faced with “extremely challenging” conditions and had to replace crews frequently to prevent them from becoming overheated.
Police have confirmed that the incident is being treated as suspicious. Staff at a nearby shop said their store had captured at least one individual on CCTV who appeared to have broken into the property shortly before 3am.
Homeowners also said they woke to hear smashing glass and a commotion in the Le Chariot Express Shop adjacent to the Peckham’s deli around two hours before the fire was detected.
Graham Matheson, 31, a care worker who lives behind the store, raised the alarm after seeing flames in the back of the shop.
“The flames were so high they rose from the ground floor or basement area to the second floor, and there was smoke flooding from the store,” he said.
“There had been noises earlier in the night as well. There had definitely been something going on.”
South Clerk Street street re-opened at about 2:10pm yesterday, although fire crews have remained in the area while investigations continue. Lutton Place remained closed last night.
Investigators were searching through rubble at the shop, which is said to sell second-hand bikes and clothes.
Peter Heath, area commander for the Edinburgh division of Scottish Fire & Rescue, said: “It’s been tortuous work for the firefighters because its a very hot day, and they’re wearing full fire gear, so we’ve have extra personnel to turn the crews regularly to prevent them from overheating.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Officers are treating the fire as suspicious, and anyone who can assist with their investigation is asked to come forward immediately.”