STUDENT fire investigators have been put to the test in an unusual exercise.

Four empty flats that are due to be demolished were set on fire last week in a controlled operation.

It gave the eight investigators, from the County Durham and Darlington, Essex and South Wales brigades, the chance to take part in a realistic exercise.

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The flats in Mansell Crescent, Peterlee, County Durham, are owned by East Durham Homes, which agreed to the exercise.

After searching through the debris for clues to the cause of the fire, the students will interview witnesses played by students at Teesside University, Middlesbriough.

The university runs the country’s first foundation degree in fire investigation, which was launched in September 2009.

Lee Aspery, the County Durham brigade’s Fire Investigation Manager, said: “Fire scene investigation, excavation and interviewing witnesses are all practical skills.

“Whilst some of the details of these processes can be taught as theory lessons, the real consolidation of learning comes from practical hands-on experience.”

The Interim Chief Executive of East Durham Homes, Paul Mains, said: “We’re really pleased to support the fire service and Teesside University with this project.”

He added that it was good the fire service was able to use practical exercises for investigator training.

“It’s great that the flats will have an educational use before they are demolished.”

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