THICK black smoke could be seen across much of the region yesterday, after fire broke out at a tyre recycling factory.

Firefighters were called to the blaze at Envirotyre, on Littleburn Industrial Estate, in Langley Moor, County Durham, at about 10.30am. Fire chiefs say it could burn for several more days.

The plume of smoke from the burning rubber rose hundreds of feet into the sky and could be seen as far away as Morpeth, in Northumberland, and on Teesside.

No one was hurt in the blaze, but Envirotyre and neighbouring factories were evacuated.

Tony Grufferty, group manager for the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said the fire’s impact could have been much worse had the wind not blown the smoke away from the East Coast Main Line, only metres away, and residential areas of Langley Moor.

Instead, the black cloud dispersed over neighbouring Durham City Golf Club.

Play was initially allowed to continue, before the course was closed as a precaution.

Golfer Malcolm Davis said: “We saw the firemen weren’t wearing breathing apparatus, so we knew the smoke wasn’t toxic and decided to keep playing.”

The fire spread quickly through the used tyres and engulfed two-thirds of a singlestorey corrugated sheet building, 100m long and 30m wide.

At its height, the fire raged at close to 1,000 degrees C.

More than 30 firefighters working from six fire engines were on scene, surrounding the area in an effort to contain the blaze.

Mr Grufferty said it was too early to establish what had caused the fire, but said an investigation would be held.

Gordon Cleckner, who used to work at the plant and went to see what was happening, said: “I was passing through Durham and saw the plume of smoke. It’s gone up a few times before, but never this bad.”

In November 2006, a fire in the factory, then owned by Colway Tyres, destroyed 300 tyres. A smaller fire affected the unit in May 1994.

Envirotyre shreds used tyres before neighbouring firm Interfloor turns them into rubber dust, for use in underlay.

The waste is then returned to Envirotyre for recycling.