COUNCIL leaders have pledged their support to a packaging company whose Newton Aycliffe plant was burned to the ground this week.

It is hoped that Northern Packaging Distributors Ltd will recover from the blaze and its 40 employees can be back in work as soon as possible.

The factory, on Park 2000, Aycliffe Industrial Estate, was gutted by the fire which started after staff and management left the building after 5pm on Monday night.

Sedgefield Borough Council's lead member for regeneration, Coun Kester Noble, said: "I hope they get up and running again as quickly as possible.

"These medium-sized businesses are very important to the area and I really hope there are no negative job implications.

"I'm confident our business centre will give them the support they need to help get them on the road to recovery and back to business."

The blaze was so big that at its height thick black smoke could be seen 30 miles away and firefighters were still hosing the smouldering building on Tuesday. Neighbouring factories were evacuated as firefighters fought to control the flames and traffic had to be diverted as fragments of the roof were blown onto the road.

Their task was made even more hazardous by a series of small explosions, thought to be oxygen and gas bottles used in the manufacturing of plastic wrapping such as food containers.

As a huge cloud of smoke drifted towards the town, police and firefighters advised worried householders to remain inside as a precaution.

Seven fire crews attended the incident, along with two aerial ladders.

Police from Newton Aycliffe and Spennymoor were drafted in to help with the evacuation, traffic control and to ensure the hundreds of people who turned up to watch the drama remained a safe distance away.

Insp Simon Orton, of Newton Aycliffe police, said: "Our first concern was the safety of employees at the site and surrounding units.

"Once we knew they were safe, the fire brigade turned their attention to hosing the building down from the outside."

Early signs are that the blaze was not suspicious.