POLICE and fire crews are hunting for arsonists who have blighted a Teesside community - before someone is killed.

There have been 14 fires in the area from Haverton Hill to Port Clarence in the last two months, with the latest being an attack on a commercial garage early yesterday.

The ground floor of the premises was severely damaged by fire, with half of the upstairs floor destroyed by fire and the roof also suffering serious damage.

Roads in the area were closed by police while Cleveland Fire Brigade crews from Billingham and Stockton fought the large fire.

The 14 fires include cars being torched. The garage set on fire early yesterday was behind the derelict Queen's Head Hotel, which was left a burnt-out, roofless shell following two recent fires.

Jeff Marwood, station officer at Billingham Fire Station, is concerned that if the fires are not stopped, they will claim a life.

"Deliberate fires endanger people's lives and are generally started by people who have no concern about the implications of what they are doing."

Mr Marwood said that lives could be put at risk if firefighters called out to deal with an arson were then called upon to deal with an emergency elsewhere in their area, which could slow response times.

He added: "We have made significant reductions in the number of deliberate fires in the brigade area, but we have had a problem at Port Clarence over the last two months.''

Posters are to be displayed across the small housing estate and surrounding area, urging people to report those responsible before a life is lost in a fire.

Cleveland Police patrols are to be stepped up, along with surveillance in the area.

Local people and what businesses remain in the area were too afraid to speak out yesterday in case they found themselves the arsonists' next target.

Cleveland Police have appealed for residents to call with any information about the firestarters. Any calls to the police will be dealt with in confidence.

A spokeswoman said: "We are aware there have been a number of similar incidents in this area and we will be working together with our colleagues in the fire service and arson investigation to increase vigilance in the area."

People with information can ring Cleveland Police on (01642) 326326.