AN arson investigation has been launched after a blaze on the eighth floor of a tower block in Southend city centre.

Police are investigating the fire in the drying room at the Quantock flats, in Chichester Road, yesterday, after Essex Fire and Rescue has confirmed it recorded the cause as deliberate.

Queensway and Chichester Road were shut off by police and a large cordon was put in place while five crews extinguished the fire yesterday.

South Essex Homes caretaking staff began a clean-up operation later in the afternoon, while forensic investigators were seen entering the building to start their assessment of the fire’s cause.

A fire service spokesman confirmed the cause today.

An Essex Police spokesman said: "We are investigating the cause of a fire in the drying room on the 8th floor at Quantock, Chichester Road, Southend, on Thursday.

"We are treating the investigation as arson."

Bright orange flames could be seen while thick block smoke billowed out of the laundry drying room as the fire broke out.

Despite a “stay put” policy being in place in the block of flats, many residents rushed out of their flats and gathered outside.

The fire service confirmed that no homes were badly damaged during the blaze. 

South Essex Homes has been contacted for comment.