A FIRE that engulfed a row of shops is believed to have been started following a burglary attempt, detectives have revealed.

The blaze engulfed the shops on Wythburn Crescent, Carr Mill at 11.40pm on Wednesday.

Firefighters worked through the night to bring the flames under control – but could not prevent the fire spreading. The shops have been left severely damaged.

Detective Constable Matthew Rimmer said: “At this stage of the investigation, we believe this fire resulted from a burglary attempt on one of the businesses.

“Enquiries are at an early stage but we would be particularly keen to hear from anyone who was in the area in the hours before or after the fire, who saw two males acting suspiciously, even running from the area, to get in contact.

“This is not a victimless crime and this fire has left these businesses unable to operate and serve the local community."

Some shop staff were left in tears as they were called to the scene to see the businesses burning.

The row included a Thrifty's general store, a salon, a kebab shop and a Chinese takeaway. The store also included a Post Office branch.

A spokesman for general store Thrifty's said: "It was so sad seeing the businesses go up in flames and watching the row of shops burn down. There were staff there crying at 4am .

"We're now waiting on the police investigation.

"The shops are a big part of the community – we've owned the store for 18 months – and a lot people rely on them. But we will come back fighting - unfortunately people will have to do without us for a while."

The shops are owned by housing landlord Torus and there are fears they may have to be bulldozed, such is the extent of the damage.

A spokesman for Torus said: “Unfortunately, the row of shops has been severely damaged.

"For safety reasons, access to the site today has been limited and we are waiting for a full structural survey to be completed before we make any decisions regarding the future of the shops.

"We have ensured that the units are all boarded up and the site is fully secured to keep local residents safe.

"We’re doing our best to advise and assist the leaseholders of the properties at this difficult time and are fully cooperating with the fire service and police as they continue their investigations.”

The shops are regarded as a key part of a community on a large estate, where many people do not drive.

St Helens Star:

The shop ablaze during the early hours

Speaking to the Star, onlookers said they were devastated for business owners.

One resident said: “It is such a shame. Everyone used this shop (Thrifty’s).

“It was just up in flames – it started about 11.30pm. The flames must have been 10 or 15 ft higher than the shops.

“It’s a blow to the community.

“The owners of the Chinese (which is next to the shop) were here last night and you could see they were upset.”

Meanwhile, DC Rimmer urged witnesses to come forward: "Any information you may have, could assist our investigation.

"Please DM @MerPollCC or call 101 quoting ref 18400019464 or contact@CrimestoppersUK anonymously via social media or 0800 555 111.”