A SPATE of ‘intense’ fires has left residents confused and shocked in Arnside this morning.

In the early hours a car, minibus, bottle bank and wheelie bin were all set alight at various locations around the South Lakeland village.

Emergency services believe the fires were started deliberately and an investigation has been launched to catch those responsible.

Owner of the Willowfield Hotel, Peter Birch, was awoken by guests who were startled by the blazing car along the promenade.

He said: “It was an inferno - very intense, and people in our top room said they could even feel the heat. It is big shock especially for a village like Arnside.

“It’s such a beautiful, peaceful place and I cannot understand the mentality of the people who did this.”

The burnt-out Peugeot Partner van belonged to David and Lynda Russell, who are staying at the hotel for a long weekend.

Mrs Russell said the couple were awoken by the smoke and light from the blaze. “I thought the hotel was on fire at first, it was very frightening,” she said.

Her husband added: “It has not sunk in yet. We couldn’t even rush out to do anything because by the time we saw it is was gone.

“At least no-one was in it, or it wasn’t the nearby campervan - possessions can be replaced.”

Further towards the centre of the village, on High Knott Road, an LDV campervan had also been set on fire.

And the bottle bank was the next victim. Sandra Lee, who lives near to the recycling centre, said: “I was taking my dog for a walk at 5.10am and I thought the bottle bank was on fire, but it seemed to be going down a bit.

“But then I walked to Briery Bank and saw a wheelie bin completely alight. I would not expect anything like this to happen here - it’s awful.”

Ronald Crook poured water over the wheelie bin after seeing the flames through his front window.

“There were three small fires and as I got up they caught my eye because it was just outside our house," he said.

“It’s right by the gas mains so it could have been nasty.”

These incidents follow on from a number of wheelie bins which were set alight over recent summer months and other incidents of damage to vehicles, windows and public toilets in and around Arnside.

Between January and October, around 20 wheelie bin fires have been reported and after investigation, a number of suspects have been interviewed however no charges have yet been brought.

Sergeant John Stephens from Kendal Police said: “Arnside is a peaceful area that traditionally has very low levels of crime so launching an investigation of this nature is unusual.

“We are tentatively linking the incidents and are asking the local community to help us identify the person or people responsible.

“This is absolutely mindless damage that has left victims frustrated, upset and out of pocket. Not only that, it has only been down to luck that the fires haven’t spread and caused more substantial damage or caused an innocent member of the public serious harm.

“One of the wheelie bin fires committed over the summer happened right next to a primary school. Had the fire spread, the damage it could have caused and the impact that this would have had on local people would have been significant.

“We have launched an investigation and are working alongside our colleagues in the Fire and Rescue Service to identify how the fires were started and gather evidence in a bid to identify the offender(s). Police patrols are in the area and officers are making enquiries with local residents and businesses to see if anyone has witnessed anything suspicious over recent months.

“Arnside is a small, close-knit community so it is likely that someone may have heard or seen something that is suspicious. We want to stop this from happening again so if you have information that can help, please speak to me or one of my team by dialling 101.”

Steve Sharrock, station manager at Arnside Fire Station, said: “People deliberately lighting fires need to be aware of the potentially fatal consequences of what they’re doing.

“Fires can spread rapidly and quickly get out of control with fatal consequences.

“We’ll be working closely with the police to try and clamp down on this type of wreckless criminal behaviour and delivering talks to young people in the area by going into schools in the run up to Bonfire Night to discuss the dangers of setting fires.”

To provide information to police anonymously call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.