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The blaze started at about 6.30pm on Monday, June 25, and fire crews fought for several hours to contain the flames, which at one stage got within a few feet of the auction house. Toxic fumes billowed over the seafront town and gas bottles exploded as the fire swept through a breakers yard in Finmere Road, feeding on old tyres, plastic scrap and derelict cars.

“There were a couple of really loud explosions,” said auctioneer Paul Achilleous. “About 14 fire engines turned up and the firemen had to keep hosing down our back wall to stop it catching fire.

“Fortunately, we didn’t have a sale on at the time, but we had to clear everything out of our antique saleroom, which suffered some water and smoke damage.”

“We would like to thank the staff of the nearby Builders Centre, who helped us rescue the stock,” he added.

At its height, up to 60 firemen tackled the blaze. A spokeswoman said they had it under control by 8.30pm but crew remained on the scene until the early hours of the morning.

DC Paul Phelps confirmed the fire was started deliberately. Two boys, aged just 10 and eight, were arrested and have been released on bail.

Eastbourne Auction Rooms have had to postpone their Antique and Collectables sale from Friday, July 13 until July 27. Tel: 01323 431444.