THE wife and stepdaughter of a man who drowned and dismembered his pet dog, then blamed black magic for his crimes, were in hospital last night after their home was destroyed in a fire.

Margaret Carroll and Katrina Livingstone have been arrested by police on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.

The pair are believed to be in a critical condition for a condition unrelated to the blaze which ripped through their home near Leadgate, Consett, County Durham, on Saturday.

Police are investigating claims that the pair had been using a Ouija board the night before and received the chilling message that they were going to die.

Last week Mrs Carroll's husband, Paul, pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal.

Magistrates heard how he drowned and dismembered a Bedlington terrier then claimed supernatural spirits from a Ouija board session on Christmas Eve had killed it.

The 51-year-old, who has learning difficulties, is due to be sentenced later this month.

Despite that, neighbours claimed that the family had continued trying to commune with the spirit world.

Donna Sowerby, who lives nearby in First Street, said Miss Livingstone told her she used a Ouija board on Friday night, which told her she and her mother were going to die.

Emergency services were called to the home at around 8.45am on Saturday morning.

Mrs Sowerby, 30, said: “The fire was right the way through the property. It was horrible. The roof was right up. We could not see up the street because of the smoke.

“There was a mini explosion and one of the firefighters was blown back.”

Residents have said the mother and daughter, who have lived in the property less than a year, were found in the garden as the blaze took hold.

Neighbours had to be evacuated over fears the flames would spread and that gas canisters in the house could explode.

Next door neighbour, Ann Newman, who has lived there with her husband Geordie, for 32 years, said: “The fire was horrendous. There was smoke billowing out. A neighbour came to warn us and was panicking because there were gas bottles next door and was worried there was going to be an explosion.We were in our night clothes, but she said we had to evacuate straight away.”

Mr Newman, who suffers from a wide range of health problems and requires a constant oxygen supply, was not allowed back into his home until Saturday teatime.

Mrs Newman said: “We could not come back to our house all day because our house smoke logged and my husband suffers with his chest. We are very angry about what has happened.”

Police have been at the house since the fire to keep it safe and structural engineers are due to visit the property to assess the damage, but it is said to have been ‘gutted’ by the fire.

Watch manager Damian Brennan, of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said: “By the time the crew got there it was really well developed and we had to fight from the rear. They did well because we could have lost properties on both sides.

“The property itself is gutted. The roof has gone. The cause is still under investigation. It is a suspicious fire.”

Mrs Carroll and Miss Livingstone are being treated at the University Hospital of North Durham and their condition is described as ‘critical’.

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “Two women, aged 60 and 37, were taken to the University Hospital of North Durham where they remain in a critical condition and under arrest for arson with intent to danger life.

“We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.”

Police said no other dogs were in the properly at the time of the fire having being removed by the RSPCA last month.