EMERGENCY services have issued a warning to arsonists about endangering lives of innocent victims following a mindless act at the weekend.

A man's life was put at risk when vandals started a fire at a house in Bessemer Street, Ferryhill, at about midnight on Saturday.

The householder, thought to be in bed when the blaze started, managed to escape his home uninjured.

It is believed that the fire-starters pushed a wheelie bin up against the back door of the property before setting its contents alight.

The door and bin were destroyed by the flames and the kitchen was filled with potentially toxic smoke before crews from Spennymoor and Newton Aycliffe arrived.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service's community safety officer, Dave Turnbull, warned that arson can have a life sentence for its victims.

He said: "This could have been a substantial fire, the man could have lost his life because someone thought it was a laugh to target his wheelie bin. It is a very dangerous act.

"In some incidents the door could be the only way out of a property leaving the occupants trapped and the fumes can be toxic.

"It puts other lives at risk because we cannot be in two places at once to deal with a genuine accident."

Last year the brigade was called to almost 6,000 fires, started deliberately and says it will investigate each one with a view to prosecute.

Mr Turnbull hopes the incident will act as a reminder to householders to take safety measures in their homes.

He said: "I'd urge people to be cautious with their bins so they aren't easy targets, only put them out on the day of collection and push them away from the property."

Free fire safety checks and the installation of smoke alarms can be arranged on 0191-332 4222 or by logging on to www.ddfire.gov.uk

Anyone who witnessed the incident is asked to call PC Waheed Mughal on (01325) 314401.