RESIDENTS were 'minutes from disaster' after arsonists torched the shop beneath them.
People living in flats above Whiterose Solicitors and Estate Agents in Little Sutton were trapped by thick smoke during the fire.
But town firefighters managed to extinguish the Boxing Day blaze before it could spread to adjacent properties in Chester Road.
Everyone got out safely and no-one was hurt but the Whiterose premises are seriously damaged.
Darren Barlow, who lives in one of the flats above the shop, said he heard a bang at about 5.50am, then his smoke alarms went off an hour later.
He explained: 'I woke up and thought the cooker was on or something. Then I looked down our back stairs and smoke was coming in.
'I looked out the back at Whiterose's extension and saw flames coming out the windows. I rang 999 then I got my girlfriend out of bed.
'But we couldn't get out of the flat because of the smoke. The fire brigade told us to stay put, so we hung out of the windows to get some air.
'The brigade did a superb job. Another 10 minutes and the flats would have gone up. The brigade prevented a disaster happening.'
Mr Barlow, 30, a postman, his girlfriend Tammy Fitzpatrick, 25, their cats Bert and Puddings and budgie Maco were all unharmed.
But the strong smell of smoke is still in their flat, despite them cleaning everywhere. They have also had to throw away some clothes which were Christmas presents.
Cameron Robson, a partner with Whiterose, said the drama started when intruders smashed open the bottom pane of glass in the front door and searched the premises.
They took an old computer, flat screen and camera, and also looked in the petty cash box, which was empty. They then set fire to the outbuilding at the back.
Mr Robson said: 'If they'd started the blaze in the main part of the building, it would have all gone up. It would have been horrifying. I'm so glad no-one was hurt.
'The fire made an awful mess inside. This was sheer stupidity on the part of the offender.'
He thanked Mr Barlow for raising the alarm and emergency service crews for their swift actions.
Whiterose was already planning to move into the mortgage office on its immediate right. Now Mr Robson's landlord has said Whiterose can move in straight away so it can be open for the New Year.
A spokesman at the town fire station said: 'This was deliberate ignition and is being investigated by Cheshire police.'
Anyone with information about the incident should call Detective Sergeant Sarah Pengelly on 01244 350222.