NEIGHBOURS told last night of their shock after a 32-year-old woman died in a mysterious house fire.

Emergency services were called to a terraced house on Brunton Street, in Darlington, at 10.30am on Saturday by neighbours who saw smoke pouring from the kitchen window.

Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus were quickly on the scene and recovered the woman from the smoke-filled living room, while others tackled the blaze in the kitchen.

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Despite resuscitation efforts by firefighters and paramedics, the woman, who has not been identified, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A joint investigation between Durham Police and the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has been launched, with a fire investigator spending much of the weekend at the property.

The boarded-up front door at the property was the only sign that anything had happened on Brunton Street, off Neasham Road, last night.

Police have so far declined to comment on the cause of the fire, but have confirmed they are keeping their options open.

Sandra Watterson, who lived next door to the victim, called 999 after her husband, Kevin, smelt smoke on their return from a shopping trip.

She said she was devastated to hear her neighbour had died, but expressed surprised that there was anyone in the property.

Mrs Watterson said: “There is usually a car parked outside the house but it wasn’t there when I got up on Saturday, so I assumed she had gone away for the night.

“I never heard a thing, it was really quiet to say she was in the house. They’re terraced houses so you can normally hear people moving about but I didn’t hear anything.

“We went out to do some shopping and when we got back it was a bit smoky. My husband went out the back and saw the kitchen window next door had smoke coming out from around the edge of the frame.

“We went to the front and saw the windows were black.

“I called for the emergency services and they were here in minutes.

“We came round my daughter’s because my husband has a bad chest and the smoke had set him off – someone ran round to say they had pulled her out of the house and she was dead. I couldn’t believe it.”

Mrs Watterson said she was on friendly terms with her neighbour, who had lived in the house for about seven years, but didn’t know her well.

She added: “I only spoke to her the other day. She mentioned about going on holiday, so I thought that was why she wasn’t in the house.”

A spokesman for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service said: “A joint investigation is under way with Durham Constabulary after the occupier of a terraced house in Brunton Street, Darlington, died following a fire in the property.

"On arrival the property was heavily smoke logged. Four breathing apparatus were used and a female adult was rescued from the living room, whilst crews were extinguishing a fire in the kitchen.

“Unfortunately, despite the firefighters’ best efforts in rescuing the person and administering oxygen the woman was pronounced dead at the scene."

DS Andy Crowe, from Darlington CID, who is leading the investigation, said yesterday: “The joint investigation is still on-going and we are exploring every possible avenue.”

A post-mortem examination will be carried out on the victim and formal identification is expected today. (Monday)