A TRAVELLER family last night described how they fled their caravans in horror after they were doused in petrol and torched with fire bombs.

The Collins family somehow escaped unhurt when fireballs engulfed and destroyed three caravans and a storage box in their compound on the outskirts of Shotton Colliery, near Peterlee, County Durham, earlier this month.

Chrystal Collins said: “We were lucky to escape with our lives. They have doused the caravans in petrol from on top of the boundary wall, before throwing over petrol bombs and five gallon drum with fuel.

“My parents and sister in one caravan and I was alone in another when suddenly everything went orange.

“I heard my sister scream and the next thing there were flames everywhere. I heard bang, bang, bang and ran for my life. We barely got out of the caravans with our lives, thank God.

“The caravans burnt down in seconds. Even the ground was on fire. Whoever was responsible was trying to kill us. They knew we were inside.”

Miss Collins said the attack at 7.30pm on Tuesday, February 2, was the latest series of incidents, including the destruction of a cemetery headstone of family friends and a van smashing through the wall of their compound.

Some of the events happened at the same time war erupted between two traveller families in Darlington. That feud saw two skulls taken from the graves of a traveller family, stolen lorries rammed into two homes in the Darlington area and a petrol bomb attack on a third house in the town.

Police have stressed the incidents involving the Collins family are unrelated.

Miss Collins yesterday (Monday, February 22) made an impassioned plea for information about the arson attack, which has left her family living in fear,

She said: “Somebody, somewhere may have seen or heard something.

“We are also appealing for anyone who may have information to come forward to the police, especially anyone in the travelling community who may be able to help.”

She added: “I’ve never had an argument with anybody in my life. Neither has any member of my family. It’s hard to understand how anyone could do this.

“It was devastating. The worst thing about it was that my late brother’s last belongings were in the caravan. They are irreplaceable.”

Miss Collins said trouble began September after someone lit a fire “illegally” on her cousin’s land nearby – and she posted a photograph of the fire on Facebook, remonstrating because of the danger it could cause with gas cylinders kept nearby.

She said: “All of a sudden my father and I started getting threatening calls from someone in the travelling community.”

Miss Collins said shortly after that someone tried to force her car off the road. And the family later heard that someone had smashed the headstone of two close family friends, who share a grave at the Stockton cemetery.

“Shortly after that someone called and said they would go to Ireland and smash break my late brother’s headstone,” she said.

Then, on November 2, a blue horse box van smashed through the gates of the compound and rammed the wall over.

Miss Collins said: “My sister got hit in the heat of it. She got trapped in the gate and got dragged along. She was taken to hospital with severe bruising.”

On another occasion a police armed response unit attended when shots were fired at the compound.

Acting Insp Steve Thubron said: “The Collins family have been the victims of a number of offences over the last few months and along with other agencies we are working hard to provide them with support and reassurance.

“Three people have been arrested in connection with these incidents and are currently on police bail while inquiries continue.

“Anyone thinking they can break the law with impunity will soon find themselves the subject of police action.”

Police confirmed an accelerant was used in the attack on the family compound. A joint police investigation with the fire brigade is ongoing.

Anyone with information should contact Durham Police on 101.