FOUR people were arrested after raging fire ripped through a terraced house, and spread to three other homes.
Arsonists are believed to have sparked the blaze in London Road, Grays, which completely gutted one house and killed a dog trapped inside.
Police helped one woman from the house where the fire started at about 2.15am on Saturday then had to break into others to alert sleeping residents.
A nearby pub gave those who fled emergency shelter before Thurrock Council arranged temporary accommodation.
A joint police and fire brigade investigation has now been launched into the fire.
London Road was closed between Devonshire Road and West Thurrock Way and remained shut for most of Saturday.
Drivers were advised to avoid the London Road area and use alternative routes through Grays.
Chief Insp Ben Hodder the Thurrock district commander, praised the community for coming together during the difficult time.
He said: "The community spirit shown in the wake of the fire has been incredible and we would like to thank all those volunteers who helped people evacuated from their homes and also provided refreshments and facilities for members of the emergency services.
"I would especially like to thank staff at The Ship pub which opened to take in evacuated people who initially had nowhere to go on a freezing cold night, the Red Cross volunteers who were on scene to help the people who lost their homes, the local church and many other local residents who helped in any way they could.
"Their help was invaluable and went a long way to reducing the despair of the people who lost everything in the fire.”
In the aftermath a 30-year-old man from Grays was arrested for arson.
An 18 year-old man from Grays who was arrested in connection with the investigation has now been released without charge.
A 24-year-old man who was arrested at the same time has been released after accepting a caution for a seperate criminal damage incident in Grays.
While a 27-year-old woman from Grays arrested on suspicion of assault causing actual bodily harm has been bailed until March 7 pending further enquiries.
Police are now keen to hear from any drivers or pedestrians who were in the area between 2am and 3.30am and might have seen any suspicious activity.
They also want to hear from witnesses who might have seen anyone running away after a fire was started outside one of the affected properties.
Anyone with information should call police on 101.