SCARED residents quit their home after a 12-year-old boy tossed a lit teabag on to a bed causing more than £12,000 worth of damage.
The boy, now 14, escaped a custodial sentence for the arson attack on a Coney Hill home when he appeared before Cheltenham Magistrates' Court on Thursday.
He has already served eight months for another crime and magistrate Martin Brown said sending him back into custody could do more harm than good.
He said: "I feel for the people who suffered losses because of this offence but we have to think about the long-term interests of the boy and his security."
But he warned him: "What we are dealing with here is a very damaged young man.
"A lot of your offending is quite serious. If you come before the court again, it will have no alternative but to send you back into detention."
The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been landed with a 12-month youth rehabilitation order and will be electronically tagged for three months. He will have to attend a programme designed to turn his fortunes around.
He has returned to school and stayed out of trouble for several months, the court heard.
The boy set light to a teabag and threw it into a flat when people were inside on May 12, in 2011. Nobody was injured but damage to a bedroom totalled £12,365.
He was later arrested in his grandmother's back garden.
Prosecuting solicitor Sharon Jomaa said: "Just before 8pm on the evening in question, the fire service were told of a fire at a bed and breakfast accommodation.
"When police arrived at the scene, it was on fire.
"Just before the fire, a local boy had been seen acting suspiciously outside the premises. Residents said they were scared and did not want to stay there anymore because of their fear.
"One of the residents moved just two days later. It was a fearful incident for them.
"The whole room had to be redecorated and of course there was the loss of personal items too."
The boy was given a grilling by Mr Brown as he stood before him in court. He asked him: "Can you look back and see how serious this was?" The boy said: "Yes".
Then he asked: "Do you remember why you did it?" The boy said he didn't.
And, finally, Mr Brown asked: "You are not going to get arrested again?" The boy said: "No".