A MAN has been arrested on suspicion of arson after a fire damaged a row of four terraced homes in Grays.
The fire started in one of the middle terraced houses in London Road - and was attended by fire crews at 2.17am.
The adjoining houses were all heavily smoked logged when fire crews arrived.
Eighteen people were evacuated, including several people who were asleep and found after police officers broke into their homes to help them leave.
The evacuated residents were given emergency shelter at a nearby public house before being rehomed by the local council.
Crews in breathing apparatus fought the fire - which spread into the shared roof void of the block - using two hose reel jets and three main jets.
It took them several hours to put out the fire and firefighters did not leave the scene until just after 6am.
A joint police and fire brigade investigation has been launched into the cause of the fire.
London Road has been closed between Devonshire Road and West Thurrock Way and is likely to remain shut for the rest of the day.
Drivers are advised to avoid the London Road area and use alternative routes through Grays.
The man arrested on suspicion of arson, who is 30 and from Grays, was detained by police in the nearby area at about 3.20am.
He was taken to hospital for treatment to a head injury and remains in police custody this morning.
Two men, aged 18 and 24 and both from Grays, were also arrested nearby and are being questioned by detectives regarding any connection with the incident.
Detectives have appealed for information about the cause of the fire and anyone who can help should contact Grays CID on 101.