A Wollongong "hoarder's" home has been incinerated overnight, with the fire threatening a neighbouring property before it was brought under control by up to seven fire crews.
Neighbours say the Church Street home was normally so shrouded by "rubbish", they were unsure whether it had a front door.
The Mercury understands the weatherboard-clad house was unoccupied when it caught fire shortly before 3am Monday.
A resident told the Mercury she was woken by the sounds of the fire and, seeing the height of the flames, she worried it would spread to neighbouring homes.
"The fire was quite close to [a neighbouring house], and the wind was blowing the flames this way," she said.
"We woke up to the sound of popping. It was quite loud. There was lots of smoke and the flames were quite high already.
"I thought straight away that it was deliberately lit. I can't see how it could have happened on its own."
The resident said she had never seen anyone coming or going from the property, after several years of living in the street.
"It was a bit boarded up. It was hard to tell if they had a front door because there was a lot of rubbish," she said.
The first firefighters arrived shortly after 3am, before calling for support. Crews from Wollongong Warrawong, Dapto, Bulli and Unanderra attended, training multiple hose lines on the site.
A spokesman for Fire and Rescue NSW said firefighters had the blaze contained to the one property by 3.45am, but were unable to immediately tackle the fire internally.
"Due to the hoarding, firefighters had some difficulty accessing inside the home and moving around inside," he said.
There were at least two cars parked next to the property. Firefighters believe the blaze began in one of these, before catching the home.
The house was completely destroyed by the time the last fire crew departed, about 6.15am.
Black scorch marks on a neighbouring home showed the threat it posed to surrounding property.
The spokesman said the home’s occupant had been accounted for and was assisting emergency services with their inquiries.
The site has been handed over to Wollongong Local Area Command, which is now investigating the cause of the blaze.
Contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 to provide information that could assist with the investigation.
Update, 1pm: Police released the following statement a short time ago:
Police are appealing for information following a suspicious fire at Wollongong early this morning.
Neighbours called emergency services after observing a vehicle parked in a sideway to the property in Church Street on fire at 3.05am today (Monday 19 February 2018).
When police and fire and rescue arrived at the scene both the vehicle and the unoccupied house were both alight.
The house was used as storage and not used as a residence.
Because of the intensity of the blaze, two properties adjacent to the fire were evacuated for the safety of the residents.
Church Street is closed between West Street and Swan Street, Wollongong, due to the fire zone.
Investigators are appealing for information or images or vision of any suspicious activity, or anyone with information about those responsible, to contact Wollongong Police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
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