Police issue description of Portobello firestarter

Firefighters attend the tenement fire at Ramsay Place in Portobello. Picture: Greg Macvean

Firefighters attend the tenement fire at Ramsay Place in Portobello. Picture: Greg Macvean

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DETECTIVES have issued a description of a man they want to speak to after five tenement stairs within a half-mile radius were set alight in less than 24 hours.

Police said they were also trying to speak to two witnesses who may have seen the suspect responsible for two of the fires.

He is described as white, late teens to early 20s with dark hair, wearing dark trainers, dark jogging bottoms with a light stripe on them, and a bluish grey hooded top, with a logo.

One of the potential witnesses is a woman driver who pulled up at King’s Place as the suspect ran from the building on Sunday. It’s thought she had a short conversation with him after fire engines arrived.

Yesterday, another woman with dark hair, wearing a brown three-quarter length leather coat is believed to have entered Ramsay Place from Portobello High Street at the same time as the suspect exited the common stair.

Residents of Portobello have told how they are living in fear over where the “mindless” firebug will strike next.

On each occasion, unlocked main doors of tenements have been used to gain entry, before everyday items found within stairwells, such as buggies and gardening supplies, have been set alight.

In the latest incident yesterday, just yards from Portobello police station, fertiliser and building waste were set ablaze just inside the back door of a tenement in Ramsay Place, filling the four-storey building with thick black smoke.

A 67-year old man was taken to hospital while firefighters in breathing apparatus evacuated the building shortly after 3pm.

Four similar fires in neighbouring streets were previously tackled within the space of an hour on Sunday night.

The first call was to Bath Street at 6.18pm, where a child’s pram had been set alight within a stairwell.

Around 12 minutes later, and just yards down the street, ten people, including two children, had to be rescued after another pushchair was set on fire.

Fire crews were also called out to Bridge Street at 6.50pm and King’s Place at 7.20pm, where blazes were deliberately sparked using bicycles and household waste.

Ramsay Place resident William Hamilton, 38, who lives on the top floor, said he had been left “terrified”.

He said: “There’s nowhere for me to go up here, only out the window. It’s crazy that someone is going around doing all of this. In my eyes, it’s attempted murder.

“There was so much smoke due to the fertiliser burning that I thought it was my flat that was on fire. It was so thick you couldn’t see anything.”

Bath Street resident and dad-of-two Pete Sparkes, 35, is hopeful that detectives will eventually snare whoever is behind the spate of fires.

He said: “The fact that each fire has been set deliberately is very worrying. There are a lot of families living in this area with children, I just hope they can catch whoever it is before there’s a fatality.”

Craig and Debbie Stephens, who appeared on Britain’s Got Talent as “Zedd and Saffire”, had to be rescued along with their teenage sons from their third-floor flat in Bath Street.

Mr Stephens, 44, said: “We were at the front window screaming for help because the smoked just seemed to engulf the place.

“Some crazy person is doing this – they’re off their head. We could have died, there’s families in the stair with babies.”

Marionville and McDonald Road fire crews have begun visiting residents in a bid to offer reassurance.

Local councillor Maureen Child held her weekly surgery last night and revealed the issue was weighing heavily on the minds of all those in attendance.

She said: “People are really worried about this. Whoever it is cannot be thinking clearly – to say it is mindless would be an understatement.

“These fires are putting people’s lives at risk for no other reason than a thrill. A person couldn’t hold a grudge against people in five different stairs.”

Franc Bryson, 55, a business manager with a cleaning company in Trinity, spent Sunday night gathering video footage of the events.

He said: “I went out to the gym and walked past a fire being put out on Bath Street. When I came back about an hour later there was another more serious fire at the other end. I decided to get my camera and take some footage.

“Before long we saw more fire appliances heading off in a different direction. I followed them on my bike to a fire on the waterfront. They were having to lift people out windows.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police are investigating following a number of fires within stairwells in Portobello. Anyone with information is asked to come forward.”