A vehicle smashed through a cafe on a row of shops in Fox Hill Road, Fox Hill, at about 1am this morning.
The raiders then set the vehicle on fire, causing flames to spread throughout the cafe and a flat above.
Police are treating the incident as a ram raid and those responsible fled the scene and are at large. Nobody was injured.
A number of residents were evacuated from their flats and were not allowed to return for a few hours while firefighters extinguished the blaze.
One resident, a 57-year-old man who did not want to be named, told how some people were in a state of panic.
He said: “I heard revving engines two or three times so I don’t know if they had a few goes at it.
“Then there was somebody outside screaming ‘Get out!’. The police knocked on my door and said they were evacuating people.
“I looked over and saw the flames coming out above the windows. It was frightening stuff. You fear the worst when police knock on your door in the middle of the night.”
He added that a young couple, aged in their 30s, who live in the flat above the cafe gutted in the fire, had only just got back off a holiday in Spain in the last couple of days.
He said: “It is a terrible thing to happen. I’m just glad nobody was hurt.”
Another man said he heard some ‘loud bangs’ when the vehicle rammed into the cafe.
People were evacuated from about seven flats above the shops from 1am and were allowed back into their homes at 4am.
Four fire engines were dispatched to the scene and the road was closed off as fire crews battled the flames for about three hours.
In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said officers were called out to reports of a ‘ram raid’.
The force added: “It is believed that offenders drove a vehicle into the building to gain entry before the vehicle was set alight.
“It is not yet known if anything was stolen. No one was injured.
“Our officers attended the scene alongside South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. An investigation has been launched to find those responsible.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101 quoting incident number 59 of 13 October 2019 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.