A LANDMARK hotel was completely gutted by a ferocious fire in the early hours of yesterday.

The blaze at The Otter Hotel on Bildershaw Bank, near West Auckland, County Durham, was reported at 3.20am, and spread quickly through the building.

A spokesman for Durham Police said there had been a report of two people running away from the scene.

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He added: “There is no other evidence, but it is being investigated. It is still early days.”

Up to 30 firefighters and eight appliances from Bishop Auckland, Newton Aycliffe, Darlington and Durham City were required at the height of the blaze.

Most of the roof was destroyed by the fire, which also caused extensive damage throughout the rest of the building.

The hotel was empty when the fire broke out, and there were no reports of any injuries.

Officers investigating the incident say it is too early to establish the cause of the blaze, but are hoping to begin forensic examinations today once the scene has cooled down.

A spokesman for Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service said: “It looks like the fire started on top of the building, and came through the roof very quickly.

It has been a major fire for us because of the resources needed, and severity of damage to the building.”

The Bildershaw Bank stretch of the A68, which runs past the hotel, was closed in both directions until 11am yesterday, and the charred building remained under police guard overnight last night.

Formerly known as The Wheatside, The Otter Hotel underwent an extensive refurbishment three years ago, and was offered for sale at £565,000 last January.

The building has been plagued by bad luck over the past year.

A police appeal was launched last August after owner John Frances Murphy disappeared for several days.

He was later found safe and well.

In February this year, the hotel was targeted by thieves, who smashed a patio door to gain entry, and stole electrical goods, bottles of spirits, and hundreds of cigarettes.