There has been widespread condemnation after two young Ulster families had to be rescued from their homes after vandals set a number of cars alight early this morning.
A man in his mid-30s has been arrested and is helping police with their inquiries.
A total of 15 firefighters and three appliances attended the scene at the height of the blaze, which occurred at Jerusalem Street in south Belfast around 3.30am.
The narrow road caused parking difficulties and firefighters were forced to use hoses from either end of the street to access four cars which were ablaze.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph today, Assistant Group Commander David Patton said that people could have been killed had gas cylinders in a nearby vehicle exploded.
"It could have been a lot worse if the gas cylinders had been involved in the fire," he said.
"They could have killed people last night. It's hard enough dealing with accidental fires."
Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers described the incident as "horrific" and slammed those behind it.
"There are quite clearly some people who are hell bent on making life difficult for the families and a number of students who live in the area," he said.
"This used to be a quiet area of south Belfast, which has changed over the years - and not for the better. Even one incident is too many."
South Belfast DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt called on the PSNI to "get tough" on this sort of behaviour.
"The trail of destruction which ripped through the Holylands last night is totally unacceptable and must be condemned," he added.
"The local community are living in fear. It has got to the stage where local people are prisoners in their own homes. Nobody should have to live in such circumstances."
Alliance South Belfast MLA Anna Lo, who said she was "appalled" by the attacks, has also called for a bigger police presence in the area.
"The police should try to put more officers on the beat in the area to tackle these thugs," she said.
"This type of vandalism cannot be tolerated and this attack has compounded the disgraceful intimidation that the local community suffered."
SDLP South Belfast MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell said the incident was "the last straw for hard-pressed residents".
"This is the nightmare scenario that all of us worried about and some of us warned about," he said. "It is more by good luck than good guidance that we are not reading about fatalities this morning."