A plastic box being used as an ashtray started a fire in a block of flats.

Two crews were called to Westbourne Grove, Westcliff, to reports of a fire in the stairwell just after 11.30pm yesterday.

The small blaze was extinguished by 11.55pm.

The cause of the fire has been recorded as accidental and started in a plastic box in the communal area which was being used as an ashtray.

Smoke damage was limited to the stairwell and no one was injured.

A spokesman from the fire service said: "This incident could have been worse if the fire had spread; cigarettes are the most deadly cause of house fires and this incident shows how important it is to ensure they are put right out in a suitable ashtray."

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service urge all smokers to follow the advice:

Make sure your all cigarettes are fully extinguished.

Take extra care when you’re tired, taking any sort of drugs or have been drinking alcohol. It’s very easy to fall asleep while your cigarette is still burning.

Never smoke in bed - if you need to lie down, don’t light up. You could doze off and set your bed on fire.

Never leave lit cigarettes unattended - they can easily overbalance as they burn down.

Use a proper, heavy ashtray that can’t tip over easily and is made of a material that won’t burn. Make sure your cigarette is fully extinguished.

Tap your ash into an ashtray, never a wastebasket containing other rubbish – and don’t let the ash or cigarette ends build up in the ashtray.

Use child safe matches and cigarette lighters and keep them safely out of the reach of children

Fit and maintain a smoke alarm - a working smoke alarm can buy you valuable time to get out, stay out and call 999.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service fit smoke alarms completely FREE of charge. To book a visit call 0300 303 0088 or book online: www.essex-fire.gov.uk/book