Arson gang link to spate of fires

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A GANG of fireraisers is said to be behind a spate of blazes in the Capital in the last few weeks.

At least four fires have been set targeting businesses and homes in South Clerk Street and neighbouring Rankeillor Street, causing more than £100,000 worth of damage, and residents say they are the work of the same people.

The latest blaze was started in the basement of a tenement in South Clerk Street on Tuesday night.

The Evening News has been told that just eight hours before that fire there was a fierce blaze in a basement next door which is also believed to have been started maliciously.

The fire, at Acuremedy herbalists, was caused after a pile of rubbish was set alight.

As previously reported in the Evening News, a major fire on January 11 in Rankeillor Street caused massive damage to a tenement block nearby and destroyed a dentists’ surgery. Twelve people had to be rescued and two were taken to hospital.

Lothian and Borders Police today said they were keeping an “open mind” as to whether all the incidents are linked.

But residents have told the Evening News they believe the same people may be behind all the blazes.

Reece Mitchell, 18, who lives in the tenement hit on Tuesday, helped raise the alarm.

He said: “I called the fire service after we were trapped in our flat. When we opened the door the stairway was like an oven and there were flames coming up the stairs. There are lots of rumours going round.

“I’ve seen a gang hanging around, jumping from garden to garden recently. When I was in Starbucks one night I saw the same gang light some shoes and wood and put them under the door. We couldn’t get out and we had to use huge buckets to put it out. It’s scary.”

His mother, Fiona Mitchell, added: “There is a lot of damage. Nobody has any water at the moment as the fire melted all the pipes. The Red Cross was very helpful and the fire service got there very quickly.

“We were told that there had been an incident at the herbalists next door at 11.30am the same morning. It’s very odd. Usually the door to the basement was closed but I noticed it was open that day.”

In all, 12 people had to be evacuated from the building on Tuesday night, and some were treated for smoke inhalation.

Another resident, 22-year-old Sarah Drysdale, a psychologist, said: “It seems this situation is very similar to when the dentists’ surgery set on fire. It’s been suggested the two are linked.

“We were alerted to the fire [on Tuesday] when we heard people screaming. It’s scary, we feel a bit overwhelmed.”

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were called to a fire at Acuremedy Chinese Medicine in Clerk Street at 11.30am on February 15. Firefighters discovered rubbish had been set alight in the basement. It was extinguished before we arrived. As the circumstances were suspicious police were contacted to carry out further investigations.”

Talking about the tenement fire that night, she said: “Fortunately the rapid response from firefighters meant they were able to lead those at risk from the fire to safety. This was a serious fire. The cause is now under investigation.”

A police spokesman said: “Officers are following a positive line of inquiry but ask anyone with information that can assist with their investigation to come forward immediately.”

vraimes@edinburghnews.com