A FAMILY of nine were forced to flee their home after a ferocious fire broke out in a suspected cannabis farm next door.

Jason Brown and his partner heard the ‘crackling and popping’ of flames after the electricity went off in their home just before 4am on Friday.

They had to leave with their seven sons, aged two to 13, in case the fire spread to their property in Argent Street, Easington Colliery, near Peterlee.

Mr Brown, 43, said: “Earlier in the evening we had smelled smoke but we thought it might have been a bonfire with it being that time of year.

“My 13-year-old came and told us that the electric had gone off so we have gone up to try and get it put back on.

“We could hear the crackling and popping in the ceiling so I came back down.

“I opened the door and there was a guy and lady outside trying to kick in the door next door. They said the house was on fire.

“All of the roof was lit up so we got the kids out as soon as we could.

“One of the windows was red and you could see the flames.

“The fire brigade had to come into to our property and break through a couple of bricks to tackle the fire.

“The lady opposite was very nice and let us sit inside there.”

Other residents told The Northern Echo they believed the property was being used for growing drugs.

The blaze left the roof of the terraced property severely damaged and on Friday the house was under a police cordon.

It is not clear whether anyone was in the property when the fire broke out.

Mr Brown said: “We have only seen them once and we have been here five weeks.

“We do not know how it started. As far as I am aware no-one was hurt but it was a bit scary.

“The fire brigade has given us the all clear to come back to our house as it did not spread, which is good.”

A spokesman for County Durham Fire and Rescue Service said two appliances from Peterlee attended, along with the aerial ladder platform.

Justin Parry, Officer in Charge said: “Upon arrival crews were met by a fire which had breached the roof, due to the firefighters quick-thinking and swift actions the fire was swiftly brought under control and prevented from spreading to the adjacent properties.”

A joint investigation between the fire service and police is underway.

A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: “An investigation is ongoing and we are working closely with the fire service to establish the cause.”