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The cause of the fire that broke out about 3pm was not known.
But Ashburton chief fire officer Alan Burgess told the Ashburton Courier an investigation led them to believe the fire was suspicious, and further investigations are now being conducted by police.
The brick flat, located at the Wellington St end of Hugh St, was engulfed in flames, with its front windows having exploded and flames bursting through the roof.
‘‘It appears to be the front living room/kitchen area as the origin,’’ Mr Marshall said.
Residents from both Hugh and Wellington Sts spotted the flames and called 111.
With the help of a few passing people, they were able to alert and evacuate the neighbouring houses.
‘"The adjoining house will be very smoke damaged. It doesn’t appear to have any fire damage, there’s a fire wall between the two flats.
‘"It will have to be looked at, too, whether it can be liveable or whether it’s history or not."
"They’ve done a very good job, the first crew that arrived in their first attack," Marshall said.
"That initial attack is really, really important, and they’ve done a good job of that to stop the fire from going too much further and then to stop it from getting further into the roof space."
-By Indi Roberts