A MAN was rescued "in the nick of time" by firefighters after a major fire broke out in Darlington town centre.

The fire broken out in the early hours of Thursday morning with the building "collapsing" around the rescuers.

The fire was at the former St T's Home Shop on Skinnergate, Darlington. The property has been empty for around a year.

It is understood the fire started around 4am.

Emergency services remain at the scene whilst gas and electricity supplies are isolated, and all "hotspots" are dealt with. A full investigation into the cause of the fire is expected to begin tomorrow.

Graeme Metcalf, group manager for emergency response for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said firefighters rescued the man "as the building was collapsing around them, so they got him out in the nick of time."

“At 4.12am, we received a call of what was initially reported to be a rubbish fire in the rear of the disused Cash Convertors building on Skinnergate in Darlington," he said.

“Upon arrival, it has become apparent there was an incident further down that was more severe in the old St Teresa’s hospice shop, where the roof base was well alight on that building and Age UK.

“Our initial incident commander has done a rapid assessment of the scene and requested additional resources and personal to be deployed.

“In terms of actually tackling the blaze, we’ve had five appliances since 4am this morning as well as the aerial platform from Darlington to allow us to tackle it from behind.

“We had fire crews operating inside the building with breathing apparatus to rescue one adult male during the incident. They brought him out as the building was collapsing around them, so they got the guy out in the nick of time.

“In terms of investigation, there will be an investigation into a significant incident such as this and we will be carrying that out in conjunction with our colleagues at Durham Police, Crime Scene Investigators and also our specialist fire investigators from our organisation.

“The casualty was an adult male – I believe he remains in hospital with minor injuries at this point in time."

Mr Metcalf said he wanted to thank local residents and business owners.

“We are a community focused organisation and we would just like to say thank you to local business and local communities for the support we’ve had so far, they have kept us going with teas and coffees and it is hugely appreciated," he said.

“In terms of the impact there is going to be a significant impact to the Skinnergate area over the next couple of days at least, and we’ll continue to work with our partners, the local authority, police and small business owners as well to try and mitigate that.

“We do have some complicated scenarios, including isolating the gas and electricity supplies, with the building being at risk of collapse so we’ll endeavour to work on a plan for that to mitigate the impact to the local community.”

Speaking to the Northern Echo earlier on Thursday morning, County Durham Fire and Rescue Service Area Manager Steve Wharton said: "When we arrived we found a shop unit with three floors.

"The first and second floor and the roof were well alight and we have now got five fire engines here dealing with the incident. Our crews did a sterling job to knock down the fire and get it controlled as soon as we possibly could.

"We also deployed a fire fighting team wearing breathing apparatus who were able to rescue one person from inside the building."

Louise Dobson of Skinnergate News, which is situated just outside the cordon, said: "It is definitely a bit of a shock.

"Obviously Skinnergate has been in the news quite a lot about how quiet it is with no shoppers around. And now people will be avoiding it today, it isn’t very good.

"I would say this is the first incident I have seen like this in ten years of working here. They keep putting water on the building and I expect they’ll be here for a long time yet."

Janet Read and Michael Wanless both volunteer in Age UK next door to the former St T’s Home Shop.

They said they were shocked by the incident and think it was caused by squatters because they have been hearing people in there.

Apparently the shop has been shut for around two years and is to be turned into flats.

Mr Wanless said: "This is affecting our jobs and our customers today, it isn’t good.

"I hope it hasn’t affected the people in the flats behind the shop because people live there."

Ms Read said: "I was worried when I realised it was St Teresa’s because we are right next door and I thought it might spread along the roof to us."

Darren Pratt arrived to get his haircut but could not because the barbers is behind the cordon.

He said it’s a “nightmare “ and he will have to find somewhere else that “isn’t too dear”!

Around 10.20am, Durham Police issued a statement.

They said: "Emergency services remain at the scene of a fire at the three-storey St T’s Home Shop, in Skinnergate, Darlington.

"Officers were called to the incident at 4.30am this morning by colleagues from County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.

"A man in his forties was rescued from the property by firefighters and taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.

"Skinnergate is expected to remain closed for the rest of the day and people are being urged to avoid the area.

"Police and the fire service will remain on scene for the next few days to carry out investigations into the cause of the fire."

  • Report by Matt Westcott, Michael Atkinson, Alexa Copeland, Nick Gullon, Georgia Banks and Paige McDermott