A gang of 15 youths was seen scaling the disused building in Muirhouse Avenue on Friday afternoon before breaking through metal security shutters on the first floor and running amok inside.
Residents reported hearing the yobs ransacking empty homes on their way to the top floor, where it is thought they started a fire.
Fire crews said it was the second suspected fire-raising incident in the building in as many days, while locals told how the external wall of a neighbouring building, which is also abandoned, had been torn down by vandals.
In May, the News told how yobs set fire to a block of flats in nearby Muirhouse Parkway while continuing to search for scrap metal as the building burned.
One Muirhouse resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said the area was blighted with relentless antisocial behaviour and called for the two derelict buildings to be demolished.
“This kind of this has been going on for months,” he said. “And it seems there’s nothing to stop them, they aren’t afraid of anything.
“When these yobs managed to get access to the building, they did so in full view of everyone but they just didn’t care.
“They took the side of a house down the other week and the hole was so big you could have driven a van through it. It’s like something from the Wild West or maybe even Monty Python, because it’s so crazy.”
The unnamed resident, who has lived in Muirhouse for 40 years, said he watched youths climbing to the first floor balcony at around 4pm before breaking in and sparking a blaze. “There were about 15 of them aged between ten and 16 breaking in,” he said. “The next thing a neighbour came up and asked me to call 999 because they had set fire to it.
“There had been a lot of smashing and banging coming from the rear of the building but then there was thick black smoke pouring out from the top floor. My house is only about 30 metres from the flats and I could smell the smoke inside my own house.
“As soon as they heard the fire brigade sirens they scarpered.”
A spokeswoman for Lothian and Border Fire and Rescue Service said: “We had already attended a small fire at the property on Muirhouse Avenue the previous evening.
“We are yet to establish whether it was started deliberately but derelict properties often attract a rogue element.”
Ward councillor Steve Cardownie called on residents to help police identify the culprits but said the vast majority of the community were “law-abiding and hard-working” people.
“There is obviously a distinct lack of parental control if parents are letting ten-year-olds get up to such wilful acts of fireraising and vandalism,” he said.
“It beggars belief that kids as young as ten are putting themselves and others in great danger by getting involved in this kind of activity and we need to nip this in the bud before something tragic happens.”
‘Ragged’ children – Page 14