LIVES were put at risk when a fire was started at a housing complex by a man who had been refused a tenancy - because of a conviction for arson.

John Curran hung around the scene saying “people are going to die” while the blaze took hold and black smoke poured out, a court heard.

He started the fire at the supported housing property, which accommodates people on three floors, next to a main building which holds 49 people.

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Some residents were trapped in their rooms, fearing for their lives, and had to be rescued by firefighters wearing breathing gear, said prosecutor Jenny Haigh.

Miss Haigh told Teesside Crown Court that some of the residents at the properties in Park Road North, Middlesbrough, are still suffering flashbacks.

One said in a statement: "The flames were blazing and the heat was unbearable. He was saying I had to help people. I would have burned to death."

Curran went to a security officer after a fire alarm sounded, saying: “There’s a fire up there. People are going to die. It’s on you if they die.”

Miss Haigh said “agitated” Curran led the officer to the home where thick black smoke was coming from the building from around 5.30am to 6am, on August 3.

As the worried officer screamed to get residents out, Curran pushed behind him saying: “You need to get these people out. They’re going to die.”

The court heard that third-floor residents were trapped in their rooms, with the only exit a 30ft drop to the ground, and some needed to be rescued.

One tenant told in his statement how he saw flames on a banister and felt “unbearable” heat, tried to help and alert others, and saw Curran in the hallway.

The court heard how 39-year-old Curran told him he had to save people, but the resident said: “If I went upstairs I would have burned to death.”

He told how he felt anxious, jumpy and scared since the fire, thinking he could have been killed, while it worsened his mental health, with sleepless nights.

People emerged from the building covered in soot and dirt, and the blaze caused £8,500 damage – plus thousands in associated bills, said Miss Haigh.

A staircase and window had to be replaced, full renovation work was needed including re-painting and new flooring, and more than £3,000 income was lost.

Curran – thought to be drunk or on drugs at the time – was seen shouting and arguing with other residents and he was arrested at the scene.

He was said to have been agitated and aggressive, and when approached shouted at the security officer: “I’ll punch your face in. I’ll bray you."

The court heard that he had never been housed by the scheme and applied in October last year, but was declined because he had a previous conviction for arson.

Ms Haigh told the judge, Recorder Toby Hedworth, QC: “You may feel there was a motivation of malice at not being allowed to reside at the premises.”

Curran, of Borough Road, Middlesbrough, admitted a charge of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered at an earlier court appearance.

In 2009, he set fire to a rubbish bag outside his ex-partner’s home, next to a gas meter and the only exit from the property, then sent her a threatening message.

Mr Recorder Hedworth adjourned sentencing until December 19 for a report to be prepared by the Probation Service to consider Curran's "dangerousness".