AN UCKFIELD resident told the Sussex Express how he was first at the scene as fire took hold of four High Street properties on Sunday night.
Ben Miller, 20, who lives opposite, took his life into his hands, rushed across the street and knocked on the doors of flats.
As people moved out to safety, he heard an ‘earth-shattering’ explosion which apparently sparked the horrific blaze which raged through roof spaces and inflicted almost irreparable damage to shops and offices.
Ben saw flames flicker behind the building at about 11pm.
His grandmother, Judy Solomons, also from Uckfield, told the Express: “The flames seemed to come from the back of the barn in Olive’s Yard.
“Ben told me he dashed over there and saw two bins on fire.
“He went to the flats above the HSBC building and hammered on doors telling everyone what had happened.
“There was then this horrific explosion – whether it was the air conditioning units or gas bottles we don’t know.”
The High Street was shut until Tuesday morning as crews ensured the street was safe.
Some 25 people were evacuated from nearby properties.
At its height more than 40 firefighters from Uckfield, Crowborough, Heathfield and Hailsham battled 20-foot flames.
Council surveyors say buildings are still ‘structurally compromised’.
Lisa Hepburn, from the Flower House, said her tenant who lived above was evacuated to the Civic Centre at 3am.
“My shop is damaged by smoke and the back door smashed in. This just tops the hard times we’ve had over the past three years.”
Marketing Eye staff gamely turned up and worked from Costa Coffee.
Boss Neil Edwards said the firm’s computers were wrecked but records were electronically backed up.
He said fellow business owners are ‘brilliant’ and offered them temporary accommodation.
“People can work from home but a firm like ours needs a hub.”
An 18 year old man and two boys aged 17 were taken into the Eastbourne custody centre on Tuesday after being arrested for arson with intent to endanger life.
They have since been released on police bail.
The arrests followed calls for information about the cause of the fire which devastated buildings in Uckfield High Street on Sunday night.
The fire was believed to have been started deliberately when bins at the back of the Sense charity shop were torched.