A disused care home has been badly damaged after a fire broke out on Sunday afternoon.

Emergency services were called to the former South Park Care Centre on Lakeside in Darlington just before 3pm.

Firefighters wearing specialist breathing apparatus entered the property as young people were seen entering earlier and may have still been inside.

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No-one was injured and Michael Pearson, group manager of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said the fire was being viewed as a possible arson although he could not be certain.

He said: “When we got there part of the ground floor had a reasonably sized fire going and that filled the building with smoke.

“We very quickly got the fire under control and then it was a case of progressing throughout the building making sure there was no-one in.

“We had information that a number of youths has been seen entering it but not  coming back out.

“That was our priority, to make that there was no-one still in there.

“It took a while to do a thorough and full complete search, which we have done, and there was no-one in there.

“We were equipped for the worst case scenario but no-one has been hurt thankfully.”

The road was closed by Durham Constabulary while firefighters tackled the blaze and Mr Pearson said it would be up to officers to decide if the matter was investigated as a crime.

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Mr Pearson said the ground floor had 20 per cent fire damage with smoke damage throughout the building.

A NEAS spokesperson said: “We received a call to 999 at 3.09pm this afternoon to reports of a fire at a derelict building in Darlington. 

“We sent two Hazardous Area Response Teams, a tactical manager and a clinical team leader however no patients were on scene requiring treatment.”

The Northern Echo:

The care home was closed after it was branded ‘inadequate’ by inspectors in 2016 and went into administration.

At the time dozens of residents had to be relocated and 40 staff faced the prospect of redundancy.

The care centre’s closure was blamed on cash flow issues due to low numbers of residents at a site that could house 67 people.