A WOMAN was lucky to escape alive after a fireball ripped through her home.
An arsonist poured a flammable liquid through the letterbox of Elsie George's home on Whitegate Road, Newsome, at 4.10am today and set it alight.
Firefighters revealed that 68-year-old Elsie was sleeping on a sofa bed in the living-room at the end terraced house.
She managed to escape by fleeing into the basement and out of a back door.
If she had been sleeping upstairs, firefighters believe she would have been trapped and could have died.
Police are treating the attack as arson with intent to endanger life and have revealed a man was seen acting suspiciously in the area before the fire ripped through the house.
Sgt Tim O'Sullivan, of Huddersfield police, said: "This is a very serious crime and scenes of crime officers are at the house today.
"It is just sheer good fortune that the lady was sleeping downstairs or we could have been dealing with a tragedy this morning."
The man seen is African-Caribbean, 6ft tall and stocky. He spoke with a southern accent and was wearing dark clothes and a woollen hat.
Station Officer Paul Mace, of Huddersfield fire station, said he was shocked a house could be targeted in this way.
"It was a very severe fire," he said. "The flammable liquid was set alight and then exploded as a fireball shot through the hallway and up the stairs.
"The force was so severe it ripped an internal door off its hinges and blew plaster off the ceiling. The house is very badly damaged by fire and it is a miracle the lady escaped unhurt.
"She was very lucky. If she had been upstairs she would have been trapped. Clothes hanging on the bannister rail upstairs were well alight when we arrived and she would never have got past them."
Station Officer Richard Hagger and Firefighter Chris Clarke, who were sifting through the badly damaged home today, said the fact that Elsie had closed all the doors inside her home before going to sleep gave her more chance to escape.
Station Officer Hagger said: "She heard a noise and got up to find smoke coming from the door. She managed to get out by going downstairs and out of the back door. She was badly shaken but luckily not hurt."
A smoke alarm was fitted, but had melted in the intense heat.
A fire investigation dog trained to detect flammable liquids was being used in the probe this morning.
A neighbour who was woken by the blaze said at first she thought a car had been set on fire.
"I didn't realise it was her house," she said.
"She's a lovely lady. She always says hello when I see her pottering about. I can't see that she would be targeted at all."
Elsie has worked as a volunteer at Oxfam on Colne Road, Folly Hall, for almost 20 years.
Deputy manager Peter Laird said he was devastated to hear about the fire.
"I am so relieved that she is fine," he said. "She's a wonderful woman and a valued key worker at Oxfam.
"I am sure that Oxfam will support her in any way it can."
Elsie was cared for this morning by staff from the Red Cross Victim Support Vehicle.
The volunteers are called out after serious fires.
They provide emergency help to victims which ranges from food and hot drinks to clothes and transport.
Anyone with information should contact detectives at Huddersfield CID on 01484 436582 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.