ARSONISTS risked the lives of residents by setting fire to a van causing an explosion next to a block of flats.

Flames shot up the wall of the flats and a shop, shattering windows and forcing the evacuation of residents.

Now fire safety chiefs have condemned the “reckless” act and said “there could have been tragic consequences”.

Emergency services were called to Station Road, West Moors in the early hours of Sunday morning.

They found the Ford Transit van on fire and extensive damage to flats and to the showroom of Kitchen & Bathroom Installations.

One resident had to stay the night with friends because of extensive damage to his home and others suffered from inhaling smoke fumes.

Kitchen & Bathroom owner Craig Byars said: “There were three fire engines and four police cars here and windows were smashed at our business.

“There had been an explosion and the flames had gone right up the side of the building.”

His colleague, Martin Kelly, added: “The people who did this must be pretty brazen to set a van alight in a location like this.

“It is one thing starting a fire in an open area but people were asleep up there and it could have been a lot worse. The windows could have been blown out.”

Firefighters from Ferndown, Ringwood and Redhill Park were called at half past midnight and extinguished the blaze.

The van, which has no connection to the shop, suffered extensive damage.

The kitchen showroom remains open for business following a swift clean-up operation.

Fire safety manager Stuart Granger said: “This was a reckless act because the flames and smoke reached the windows of the first and second floor flats of the adjacent building where the occupants were sleeping.

“The window of the first floor flat was broken as a consequence. If this act had occurred an hour or two later when the streets were much quieter, there could have been much more tragic consequences. The persons sleeping in the first floor flat were put in danger of their flat being set alight by this fire and if it grew any larger before the quick intervention of our firefighting crews, then we could be looking at a serious incident with unthinkable consequences.”

A spokesman for Dorset Police urged anyone with information to call them on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.