Staffordshire Fire and Rescue were called out late Monday night to tackle a blaze next to a row of student houses.
The fire started on Watford Street, Stoke-on-Trent, and is believed to have affected a number of wheelie bins and piles of waste next to an alleyway – including a mattress and a number of boxes.
Eye witnesses described seeing orange flames “rising metres into the sky”, with one fearing it could spread to nearby student houses.
Dozens of students and concerned families lined the streets to watch fire crews battle the flames.
Angel, 19, told StaffsLive: “There was this loud bang and we all panicked. We thought someone was shot, so we ran outside. Then we just saw giant orange fire high in the sky.
“There wasn’t much smoke that I could see, but the fire was massive. It must have been about 20 feet in the air at one point.
“If the fire crews didn’t come when they did, I really think it could have spread those nearby cars or the student houses next to it.”
Jamie, 20 of Watford Street, said: “I was sitting in the living room when I head the biggest bang, hit literally sounded like someone had been shot.
“We had no idea what was going on but the smell was awful from the window. We were scared the fire was going to spread as we were pretty close to it.
“We think one of our bins was burned, so we don’t know how that’s going to be replaced or whether I’m going to pay for it.”
A firefighter on the scene confirmed that a number of objects had been burned by the fire, including a mattress and a council owned wheelie bin.