A blaze which ripped through the basement flat of a five-storey home was started accidentally. 

A family-of-four believed to live in the flat in Compton Avenue, Brighton, were understood to have escaped safely after the fire broke out some time after 5pm yesterday.

At its peak, 20 firefighters were on the scene. 

Occupants of the flat were visibly shaken as they watched black smoke billow from the basement out of the windows at the front of the house.

Chris Daniels, 28, of Bath Street, Brighton, was in his flat when he heard glass smashing from the block behind his apartment.

He said: “They were smashing all the windows.

“I saw someone looking out of the back on the other side of the flats and noticed a big plume of black smoke coming from the windows.

“The smoke was hurting my throat while I was standing there. It smelled terrible.

“Some people took their children indoors. There were quite a lot of people crying.

“It looked pretty bad.”

Two engines from Preston Circus, two from Hove, one from Worthing and the command control unit from Lewes attended the fire and, by 6pm, all the occupants were accounted for and uninjured.

One neighbour, who wished to remain anonymous and lives opposite the flat, said: “I was out in the back garden and the first I knew of it was the smell of smoke – it was awful and really strong.

“So I went out to the front to see what was going on and there was smoke just billowing out of the windows and it even looked like it was coming out of the chimney. It was very, very upsetting.”

Paramedics treated one person at the scene for smoke inhalation.

A spokeswoman for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said an investigation had concluded the blaze had been started accidentally.