BUSINESSES and residents in Darlington are being urged to help prevent arsonists start dangerous fires - by disposing of waste properly.

Firefighters are asking people not to store their rubbish in an attempt to reduce the number of arson attacks.

Their plea comes following a fire at the Kwik Fit building, in Northgate, Darlington, when a pile of tyres was set alight.

Although it remains unclear whether the fire, on Sunday, could have been prevented, the blaze has prompted firefighters to draw attention to the town's Arson Reduction Strategy.

Steve Donnelly, district manager for the fire and rescue service in Darlington, said: "We want to highlight that if there is waste and flammable waste, there is always the potential for it to be set on fire.

"We want to reduce that. If we are putting out a secondary fire we are not available for an emergency."

Sunday's fire started when a pile of tyres was torched by arsonists, emitting plumes of smoke.

The fire spread to the roof void, almost engulfing the main building. It is believed the tyres may have been dumped and set alight.

Mr Donnelly said: "It also has an impact on the environment. If you live in these areas, it can also become an eyesore."

The multi-agency strategy - launched in 2004 - has played a large part in reducing arson incidents in County Durham and Darlington.

An education programme, which has run alongside the scheme, involves officers visiting schools to talk about the consequences of deliberately starting fires.

Mr Donnelly said: "It has been very successful. We have seen a large reduction and we are well on target with Government figures for a ten per cent reduction by 2010."

Following Sunday's fire, a meeting has been arranged between crews and staff at Kwik Fit.

The fire only resulted in minimal damage at the garage, which is now re-open for business.

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council said it works to reduce fly-tipping, abandoned vehicles and identifying arson hot-spots with the police.