Residents were moved from their homes early this morning following an arson attack on a Larne shop which is at the centre of a legal highs investigation.
The fire at the Northern Lights Hydroponics shop at Dunluce Street occurred at around 1.30am.
According to police, the shutters at the premises were pulled up and flammable liquid, believed to be petrol, was poured inside and set alight.
Three flats above the premises were evacuated and the occupants were taken to Larne Leisure Centre while the NIFRS dealt with the blaze.
It appears the ground floor at Northern Lights has been severely damaged by fire. The first floor of the shop and neighbouring premises show signs of smoke damage.
The Northern Lights store was previously targeted in a similar attack on May 2.
After that incident, residents living in the flats above the outlet told of their fears that their homes could be endangered.
Speaking after the most recent attack, one resident who has lived in the flats for over a decade told The Times that they were evacuated after 1am when the fire alarm sounded.
He stated: “We are living on a knife edge here.
“If you include the hoax bomb threat, this is the third time we have been affected.
“Last night I was out of my flat for around two hours and the fire brigade were being extra cautious about allowing us in again due to the danger of carbon monoxide.
“We don’t know when the next attack will happen and we would like to get rid of the shop completely.”
A Dunluce Street business owner whose neighbouring property suffered smoke damage in the early morning attack added: “We found out about the attack on Facebook this morning, we weren’t contacted by the police.
“When we came in this morning the premises was dusty and smokey so we will have to clean away the soot.”
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Billy Ashe condemned the attack as “reckless” and said it had put innocent people’s lives at risk.
He added: “I would urge people to desist from this type of behaviour and go through the proper channels to tackle the issue of legal highs.”
Larne Lough representative, Cllr Gregg McKeen echoed the Mayor’s comments and said: “Mid and East Antrim Council is working hard to resolve this issue through the courts. This can be slow and laborious, but I am calling on people to let the legal process take its course.”
MEA Councillor Jim Brown commended council staff in Larne “for the emergency response that they put into place to assist residents in adjoining properties”.
He added: “It is hoped that the Housing Executive will be in a position to be of assistance in providing accommodation. Once again, well done to the emergency services, police and fire services.”
The independent councillor called for the sale of legal highs to be banned, saying: “The misery that these substances can cause and the damage that they can do poses us in today’s society with a dilemma.
“I would call for and support legal action to be taken to prevent any further sale of these substances.
Detective Sergeant Kerry Brennan commented: “We are appealing for anyone with information regarding this crime to get in touch with us.
“We would especially like to hear from anyone who noticed a number of males in the area of the shop at around 1.30am this morning.
“Detectives can be contacted in Larne by calling 101.
“If someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details they can call the Crimestoppers charity anonymously on 0800 555 111.”