A fire which engulfed an historic public baths is believed to have been an arson attack.

Preliminary investigators’ findings indicate that the blaze which damaged Medina House in King’s Esplanade, Hove, was deliberate.

The response of firefighters in tackling the blaze at the seafront building on Saturday night ensured the building remains standing.

Campaigners are now calling for Brighton and Hove City Council to buy the building to protect what remains of the Victorian landmark.

Five fire engines were called at 5.40pm on Saturday after fire was seen coming out of the top floor. They stayed until after 9pm.

Firefighter Garry Collins said on arrival that his crew encountered a “severely developed” fire on the first floor and his crew began internal and external firefighting.

He added: “The investigation team undertook a joint investigation and they have established a potential cause of deliberate ignition.

“The fire was so severe we had to get in there quickly and maintain structural stability.

“If the fire had gone into the roof we could have lost the building but fortunately we protected the roof space and the joists in the building so it was a really good active stop.

“Had this been at 2am I am not sure we would have got such a prompt call but as it was still daytime, we had a lot of people who gave us a heads up about it.

“It is an unused building but there were signs of rough sleepers in there and we initially treated it as a persons reported and searched the whole property.”

There was also a fire at the building in May last year.

SaveHove campaigner Valerie Paynter called on the council to seek a compulsory purchase order on the property and to seek a new enforcement order to ensure it remained weather proofed.

She said: “It’s still standing rock solid after two fires but how much more punishment can this poor building take?

“It is probably the last bath house still standing and we need to preserve it.”

The building opened in 1894. The site has been the subject of many planning applications in recent years from developer Sirus Taghan, who wishes to replace the building with an apartment block.

A new application was submitted to Brighton and Hove City Council last month for demolition to replace it with a building of up to four storeys of eight two bedroom flats.

Last year the council held a public consultation to draw up a planning brief to resolve the stalemate over the property, which has been empty for more than 15 years.

The brief proposes the retention of the bath house with any new build of similar height on the site of the nearby three-storey buildings.