Thomas McGinn, of Colne Road, was jailed when he appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court on Friday 3 December after he pleaded guilty to the charge of arson endangering life.
Detectives investigating the fire in the communal hallway of a block of flats in Carnarvon Road, Clacton, in the early hours of 1 April, discovered a magazine had been deliberately set alight and placed at the bottom of the stairway. The stairway was only exit route for the two families living in the flats above.
The 38-year-old was identified after a still image of McGinn was circulated internally and one officer recognised McGinn as the man he had stopped in the area shortly after the fire was started.
McGinn was arrested on 19 April.
During an interview, he initially denied starting the fire that caused damage to carpet, walls, two pushchairs and a child’s scooter despite being caught on CCTV entering the property at the time and a few minutes after he left, the fire glowing.
Thomas McGinn was charged with arson endangering life and appeared at Colchester Magistrates’ Court on 17 August.
Detective Sergeant Dan Smith, Clacton CID, investigating, said: “This could have had catastrophic consequences had the fire alarm not activated and the sleeping families evacuated, whilst colleagues in the fire service dealt with the fire.
“Due to the diligent investigation, Thomas McGinn was quickly identified and he will now serve four years as punishment for putting the lives of others at risk.
“The case against him was so strong, he had no choice but to plead guilty.
“This sentence should serve as a stark warning to others who would intend to use fire to cause harm to others.”
The court has added an extended three year licence to the sentence.