POLICE say a large fire which spread to six buildings in Stanley, County Durham, is now under control, and are appealing for witnesses who were in the town early this morning to come forward.

Officers are treating the blaze, which broke out on Front Street, as supicious.

Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service said they received reports of the blaze at 6.48am.

On arrival at the incident, fire crews found a severe fire which had spread into adjacent shop units.

The Northern Echo:

At the height of the fire there were eight fire appliances in attendance as well as the incident command support unit and an aerial ladder platform.

More than 35 firefighters and officers were at the scene as well as police and other emergency services.

At 11.15am, Durham Police said the blaze, which at one point spread to six buildings, was under control.

During the incident a firefighter was injured by falling debris and was taken to hospital, where he was found to have suffered severe bruising to his leg. He has been discharged and is now resting at home.

Deputy chief fire officer Stuart Errington, said: “This is a stark reminder of the dangerous occupation that our firefighters undertake on behalf of the community.

"The service will continue to provide full support to our firefighter, his family and colleagues. While the injuries sustained by the firefighter were serious, it is pleasing that he is now at home and should make a full recovery.”

Officers are treating the fire as suspicious and are appealing for anyone who was in the area around the bus station and Front Street between 6am and 7am to speak to police as soon as possible.

DI Gavin Heckles, who is leading the investigation, said: “We would especially like to speak to any delivery drivers or people on their way to work at this time in the morning who may have seen anyone acting suspiciously in the area to the rear of Front Street down to the bus station." 

The fire comes just weeks after the town was hit by another large blaze which started in a takeaway and led to a large Edwardian building being demolished.

DI Heckles said: "This is the second large fire in Stanley in a matter of weeks but I would like to reassure the community that there is no link between them and the first fire at the Elite buildings in November was non-suspicious.”

A joint fire service and police investigation will be carried out into today's blaze to try and determine the cause of the fire as soon as it is safe to do so.

The fire comes ahead of industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union, which will take place as part of a national strike between 6pm and 10pm this evening.

Andy Hopkinson, area manager for Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We have robust resilience arrangements in place, which means that we are able to cope with this fire should we need to continue our work at the scene past 6pm when the FBU strike will begin.

"We would however advise people to take extra care this evening to avoid fire risks and other emergency incidents on our county’s roads.”

Anyone with information regarding the fire should call the police on 101, or Crimestoppers, anonymously on 0800 555 111.