The frightening ordeal started after rubbish was set alight at the back of the family's home at Cheriton Green, Pallister Park, Middlesbrough, at 4am.
The blaze was one of four which were started in the area last night.
Single dad Ean, 42, described his terror as he realised his family were in danger. He was asleep in his living room when he heard banging in the back yard and discovered his kitchen door on fire.
He said: "Smoke was everywhere inside the house. I just ran upstairs and grabbed the kids. I got them out of there as quickly as I could. I was terrified."
Ean tried to fight the fire with buckets of water, but fled when he was overcome by the smoke.
He said: "I saw two kids in my garden knocking the fence down.
"I've no idea what they were doing there. That and the smoke alarm is what must have woken me up. Whoever did this is pure evil. They wanted to kill us. We're lucky to be alive. If I hadn't woken up, we'd be dead by now."
The HGV driver is now recovering with his sons Thomas, 14, Daniel, nine, and twins Brett and Josh, seven. Thomas, who has just recovered from a chest infection, said: "The smoke was terrible. I couldn't breath. I felt awful."
Fire brigade watch manager Steve Waggott said lives could have been lost and warned residents to be on their guard and take precautions to stop the arsonists.
The other three fires, at about 5am, were all in nearby Cottingham Drive.
Rubbish was set alight near to a house and two sheds were destroyed.
Mr Waggott said residents can take precautions by making sure the rear of the house is secure and there is no rubbish lying around.
Anyone with any information about any of the fires is asked to contact Cleveland Police on 01642 326326 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
* To arrange a free home fire safety check, including smoke alarms, contact 01429 874063.
Written by Evening Gazette - Middlesbrough
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