A FAMILY had to scramble to safety after dense smoke filled their terraced home as a blaze gutted a nearby house.

John and Hannah Whinn, their five-year-old son Jay Ogborne and visiting friend Chris Drury all managed to escape unharmed after being alerted by residents in Station Road West, Trimdon Station, County Durham.

The blaze, which may have been started deliberately, gutted an empty house two doors down and smoke spread through the roof void of the next door house, which was also empty, at about 7.40pm on Tuesday (February 5).

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Mr Whinn, 25, said: "Smoke was coming through the loft from the house that was on fire. If the neighbours had not knocked on the window we could have suffocated.

“Hannah picked up Jay and we ran out of the house. Jay is petrified now and won’t go to sleep in case there’s another fire.

“I went back in to get our cats and a fireman came with me. The smoke was so thick that he had to use his torch for us to see.”

The family stayed with a neighbour until 10.45pm when they were allowed home. A surveyor is to visit the Whinn home to see if there was any structural damage.

Police and the fire brigade have launched an investigation after reports that people were seen running away from the area.

Anyone who can help with police enquiries should call Peterlee CID on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800-555111.