INVESTIGATIONS are continuing into a fire that started in the back yard of a terraced house in Darlington and spread to three homes.

Two young men were arrested on suspicion of arson after the blaze on Aldbrough Walk in the Lascelles area of town on Saturday afternoon.

They remain on police bail while police officers work with the fire service to establish the cause of the blaze.

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Detective Constable Ian Banham of Darlington CID said that further developments in the case were not likely until publication of the fire officers’ report, which is expected to be released by the end of the week.

He said: “We have to wait for the full report. Once that is done we are going to speak to the council, they have supplied structural engineers and they will obviously check on the state of the buildings because two of the properties are definitely theirs.”

Det Con Banham added that statements are being collected by the police to build the case for a possible prosecution.

No-one was injured in the fire, which started at about 4.30pm, as the end-terrace property that bore the brunt of the blaze was unoccupied.

Witnesses reported watching in horror as the flames spread to the neighbouring properties, with one resident saying she and her daughters had lost everything except the clothes they stood up in.

A further two houses were also damaged, mostly by smoke, and it is not yet clear which of the buildings, if any, will need to be demolished.

A Darlington Borough Council spokesperson said authority officials are meeting with insurers over the next few days to examine the buildings and a decision will then be made then regarding their future.

The response to the incident by the fire brigade was criticised by some witnesses who claimed that the service, whose union members were on strike when the fire began, took too long to arrive on the scene.

However, the deputy chief fire officer of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, Stuart Errington, said that it was roadworks rather than the strike action that was responsible for a “slightly longer” than usual response time.