A woman has been left homeless after a hob ignited materials, causing a kitchen fire in a ground floor flat.

Control teams were alerted to the fire at the home in Brook Road, South Benfleet and crews attended at abouyt 3.23am this morning.

The fire service was alerted after a neighbour, who lives in the flat above, heard a smoke alarm sounding. The occupant of the flat itself was out at the time.

Crews reported on arrival that the flat was completely smoke logged.

Four animals - including a cat, puppy and two kittens - were rescued from the premises and fortunately were unharmed.

Crews extinguished the fire quickly but the flat has been destroyed by smoke damage - leaving the female occupant homeless.

Mark Taylor, Crew Manager at Rayleigh Weir Fire Station, said: "This unfortunate incident firstly demonstrates the importance of having working smoke alarms - even though the woman who lived here was out, they managed to alert the neighbours who did the right thing in calling 999 immediately.

"Sadly, it does also show how dangerous it can be to leave loose materials - whether it's washing, tea towels or anything that can easily catch fire - on or near your hob. We believe the hob was accidentally turned on, causing materials on it to ignite. It's easily done - so please keep your hob clear and don't take the risk."