A COUPLE have been made homeless following a suspected arson attack at a block of flats in South Ockendon on Saturday morning.

 Two fire crews from Grays and one from Orsett were called to Eden Green, South Ockendon, just before 5am, after a fire tore through a couple's flat.

Emergency services found the couple, in their thirties, stranded on their first floor balcony.

They were rescued with a ladder, having breathed in a lot of smoke, while firefighters tackling the blaze with two hose reels – extinguishing it within the hour.

Initial enquiries by the Fire Service and police have indicated the fire was started deliberately and it is being investigated as suspected arson.

Occupants of nine flats had to be evacuated as the entire block became smoke-logged and several people were taken to hospital.

A spokesman for Grays Fire Station said: "When we arrived at the scene, a couple, in their thirties were on a first floor balcony at the rear of the property having left their flat to escape the smoke.

“We pitched a ladder and led them down to safety then gave them oxygen therapy while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

“They had taken in quite a lot of smoke but were conscious.

"The fire was in one of the flats but four had to be evacuated as crews dealt with the incident quickly and professionally to prevent spread and their swift action meant that flames were contained within the original property."

Police are looking for a man who was seen acting suspiciously near to the area at the time.

He is described as white, of skinny build, with short brown hair and was wearing a light coloured short sleeved top, blue denim jeans and had a dark coloured square-shaped bag across his chest.

Anyone with information should contact DC Kennedy Emson at Grays CID on 101 extension 360222, or ring Crimestopppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.