AN investigation was underway on Friday into a major house fire that claimed the life of a North-East teacher.

Emergency services were called to a mid-terraced property in Lewes Road, off Neasham Road, in Darlington, at 2.50am.

Firefighters entered the house and found a man's body upstairs.

The man's identity has not yet been confirmed, but he is understood to be the occupier, said by neighbours to be a teacher at a Teesside school.

A joint investigation has been launched between Durham Police and County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, with neither prepared to speculate as to the cause of the fire.

Several neighbouring properties were evacuated during the fire, amid fears it could spread.

Smoke could be seen rising into the sky from miles around and a large crowd of neighbours gathered to watch events unfolding before dawn.

By mid-morning, the scale of the damage could be clearly seen, with the roof of the property almost completely destroyed and just the outer frame remaining of the green front door.

The Northern Echo:

WITNESS: Tracy Knight's dramatic picture of flames exploding from the terraced house in Lewes Road, Darlington, in the early hours of Friday.

A smell of stale smoke hung in the air, over Lewes Road and the surrounding streets, for much of the day.

The blaze ripped through one property, blowing out windows, and also caused damage to the two neighbouring houses.

Neighbours said the elderly resident of the house next door to the fire-hit property had a lucky escape as she was away on holiday at the time of the blaze.

Spencer Coombs, who was staying with family at a house over the road from the fire, described hearing a loud bang, followed by shouting.

He said: "Someone was shouting 'there is someone in there'.

"We came out and tried to get in, then ran round to the back and we could see the flames coming out of the back window.

"Someone called the police and fire brigade."

Mr Coombs, 46, added: "We did not know until the morning that somebody had passed away, it's terrible for the community, it's awful."

Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said the man who died 'kept himself to himself'.

She said she would place some flowers outside his property as a tribute.

Witness Tracey Knight, one of a number of neighbours to make 999 calls, described what she heard.

She said: "I kept hearing glass smashing and then there was a big explosion, so I dashed out of bed and called the police and fire brigade."

Another neighbour said: "I heard shouting in the street and just thought it was lads partying or whatever, but then the shouting became more frantic.

"My partner opened the bedroom window, looked out and there was someone braying on our door, telling us to get out.

"We opened our back door and saw the flames shooting out of the back window of the house that was on fire."

Crews from Darlington and Newton Aycliffe were sent to tackle the blaze, along with an aerial ladder platform and a team of paramedics.

A fire service spokesman said: "Two firefighters from Darlington wearing breathing apparatus entered the property and proceeded to fight the fire in the first floor rear bedroom.

"A jet was also taken into the rear yard to fight the fire through the rear first floor bedroom window. The aerial ladder platform was used to remove slates from the roof and to dampen hot spots.

"As part of the fire service’s response to this incident, crews from Darlington fire station will be working in the neighbourhood around the incident providing public reassurance and home fire safety advice."

The Northern Echo:

BLAZE: Emergency crews at the scene of the fire in Lewes Road, Darlington.

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

CORDON: The street remained cordoned off on Friday morning.

The Northern Echo:

AFTERMATH: The house where the fire broke out (green front door), with damage to neighbouring property also visible.