A FAMILY have spoken of their terror after being caught in a string of Torquay arson attacks which police say may be linked.
The Shimali family fear they could have been killed after an arsonist set fire to both their cars on their driveway, trapping them in their house as it started to burn.
Mrs Zara Shimali (pictured) had to drag her disabled husband out of bed and hide behind the house as flames leapt into the sky.
They were terrified the cars' petrol tanks would explode.
Police have revealed they have set up a special arson team of detectives to investigate around a dozen arson attacks on cars in the Warberry and Ellacombe areas of the town.
They are appealing for the public to be vigilant and help them catch the arsonists.
On Monday, October 22, a car was set on fire close to Clarendon Court flats in Stitchill Road.
The following night the same car was again set alight.
Twenty minutes later Torquay firemen were called to the Shimali's home in Warberry Road West. The family's two cars, a white Citroen Saxo and black Vauxhall Astra, were completely destroyed.Click our interactive map for details of more recent Torquay car fires
View Torquay car fires Summer/Autumn 2012 in a larger map
The previous week fire crews had been called to another car arson in Warberry Road West.
Watch manager Tony Collier said: "Burning fuel was running down the drive towards us."
Mrs Shimali said: "It was horrible. I am very shaken.
"I keep thinking over and over again what would have happened if I didn't wake up?
"We were sleeping. I heard a noise and looked out of the window and saw flames.
"I couldn't believe my eyes. I called the fire brigade.
"By the time they arrived the flames were horrible. They were up to the sky. It was very, very high. It was so scary.
"The cars were both on fire by then.
"My car had more than half a tank of petrol and I was afraid it would explode.
"The house was starting to catch fire and we couldn't escape because the cars were blocking the drive. We had to hide behind the house.
"My husband has Parkinson's disease. I had to drag him.
"The wooden conservatory and the plastic pipes were melting and starting to catch fire. If I hadn't phoned the fire brigade, what would have happened?
"We could have been killed.
"I believe we really had a lucky escape."
Acting Det Insp Chris Yarwood said: "We are aware that this has been going on for some time now.
"There have been probably more than a dozen that could be linked in the year. It started in January and it has been happening in batches, stopping and then starting up again.
"CID officers are investigating. There is a team here who are working on it and we are putting resources into the investigation. We've got lines of inquiry to follow up and we are doing some work.
"We want to urge the public to be vigilant and to help us detect these offences, both by reporting anything suspicious, and by taking protective steps to try to prevent further fires.
"I don't want to scare people, because some of those cars were derelict. But we are treating this very seriously.
"They can help by parking their cars on a driveway if possible, and things like security lights will deter offenders. Our biggest concern is public safety."