STARTLED residents watched on helpless after three cars exploded in a ball of flames.

The blaze, in Skipton Close, Newton Aycliffe, was reported to the emergency services at 9.13pm on Sunday evening.

One resident said: "The explosions were frightening. It looks like one was set on fire, the second car was parked next to it and same with the third.

"I feel for the owners - they were all new cars."

Another said he heard "loud pops and bangs".

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service said two fire engines attended the blaze with four breathing apparatus in use and one hose reel.

A fire crew manager said a Freelander Discovery vehicle had gone up first and the fire had spread to a Mini and a Qashqai.

Firefighters spent about an hour at the scene putting out the blaze.

Police were also present and it is understood at least one property was evacuated.

Social media reports suggested the fire had been started deliberately, although there was no confirmation of this from the authorities.