A MAN has been arrested on suspicion of arson following two fires in Westcliff last night.

A joint police and fire investigation was been launched after a two blocks of flats were evacuated following separate fires in London Road.

Fire crews were called to Socata House, a block of 16 flats in London Road, Westcliff, shortly before 11pm on Sunday night following reports of a fire in the car port under the properties.

The fire, involving a number of vehicles and damaged gas supplies, was extinguished by 11.40pm.

Two crews from Southend and one from Leigh attended the blaze, which led to a 70-year-old man being treated by ambulance staff for shock.

Southend crews attended a further fire involving gas supplies on the same road at 4am on Monday morning.

Crews reported a rubbish fire set by a gas meter in the service road behind the Tesco Express store in London Road.

Around 30 people from 15 flats above the store had to be evacuated as crews extinguished the blaze and waited for the gas board to attend the scene.

A 26-year-old man, of no fixed address, was arrested in Westcliff at 5am this morning and remains in custody.

Assitant divisional officer Martyn Hodder, Southend Station commander, said: "This appears to have been a deliberate attempt to damage a gas main, it was directly under the stairs which are the only means of escape for a block of 15 flats and could have had deadly consequences had our crews nit got on top of it as quickly as they did.

"The burning traffic cones created a huge amount of thick black smoke and the propane cylinder could have exploded at any moment causing a great deal of damage.

"This seems to have been a very serious attempt to cause havoc and crews did a fantastic job tackling the fire and getting everyone safely out of their flats."

Investigators from both the fire and police services will now try to establish the cause of the blazes.