Residents flee as blaze rips through flats

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Around 150 people were evacuated from their homes today after a huge blaze at a building site spread to several blocks of flats.

More than 125 firefighters were tackling the blaze in Peckham, south east London, which spread rapidly in the early hours.

One resident spoke of flames shooting 20ft high from the three and four storey blocks as residents, including mothers with babies, sheltered on the street.

One casualty was treated at hospital for smoke inhalation, with their condition not reported to be life threatening.

A total of 25 fire pumps were at the scene, along with police officers and 20 ambulance crews on stand by.

A spokesman for London Fire Brigade said the building site near Carisbrooke Gardens first caught light, with gas cylinders possibly involved.

"The fire seems to have spread very rapidly," he said.

The Metropolitan Police said the fire had spread to "several" blocks of flats and other properties in Sumner Road and Rosemary Road.

One eyewitness in the area, Lucy Pope, told Sky News dozens of people were sheltering away from the properties while firefighters tackled the blaze.

"People are scared, they are standing in bus shelters and there are babies who have been woken up," she said.

"There are people looking very scared."

Ms Pope said surrounding roads were blocked by fire engines, police cars and paramedics.

The evacuated people were being moved to emergency accommodation provided by the local authority.

Pictures of the blaze showed flames bursting from the top floors of a four-storey building.

Barman John Osagie, 31, who lives near the site of the fire, said: "I was coming back from work at around 10 to four this morning and I saw the fire. I stood there and waited for the fire brigade to turn up. They tried to stop it but it was getting worse and worse, then they evacuated everybody.

"I was scared and I had to take some of my stuff and come and stand out in the cold."

He said he has "no clue" whether his home has been damaged by the fire.

Neighbour Lloyd Simmons was woken up by the fire brigade telling him to evacuate.

He said: "By the time we got out it was all on fire. Of course one would be terrified, it's fire, it's an emergency and you have to respond."

MP Harriet Harman said the local community was in a "state of shock".

Speaking at the site of the fire this morning she praised the courage of the emergency services.

She said: "They have been incredibly brave to go into these buildings, you can see they are incredibly unsafe and it is still so hot. The heat of the blaze must have been unimaginable. It's really a miracle that nobody lost their life."

She said that the fire originated on a building site, spread to nearby flats and was so bad it spread to properties on the other side of the road.

The fire and ambulance teams dealing with today's blaze were the same emergency workers who battled a fatal flat fire in nearby Camberwell in the summer.

Ms Harman said: "They were thinking 'no, not again', but I think we're really hopeful that there are no fatalities, that's our first concern, and our second is to help people who are in a state of shock.

"We have to make sure that people are re-housed and they are helped to just get on with their lives."

London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Steve Turek said three sites were burning when firefighters arrived at the scene. These were the building site, and two nearby blocks of flats.

He said: "The ferocity of the fire was a challenge when we first arrived because all the buildings were simultaneously burning. Homes were a particular concern to us because residents would have been sleeping at home at that time of the morning."

The fire spread across a road, destroying cars, he said.

Commander David Zinzan from the Metropolitan Police said 310 people were evacuated but only four were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Two of those were suffering from smoke inhalation, one of them a police officer.

It comes nearly five months after six people died when a fire ripped through a block of flats in nearby Camberwell. The tragedy at Lakanal House on 3 July led to concerns about the design of the building.