FIRE crews are battling throughout the night to bring a massive blaze under control in Newton Aycliffe.

An fire ripped through the Stiller warehousing and distribution centre in, Ridgeway, Newton Aycliffe, when 7,500 pallets of aerosol anti-perspirent stored in warehouse 9 exploded shortly before 1pm.

Around 180 people working on the site were evacuated.

Incredibly, no one was seriously injured.

A forklift driver is believed to have been inside the warehouse when the accident happened. It is understood he broke the doors down to escape.

Local people decsribed how smoke and flames reached almost 200 ft in the air - creating a mushroom cloud that one onlooker described as: "Like a mini nuclear bomb."

An eye witness said: "We heard a small bang, almost like a thump, then a few seconds later there was an almighty explosion. It looked like the end of the world."

Smoke and flames from the factory could be seen from the A1 motorway and police warned people to stay inside.

Fire engines from across the North-East raced to the scene. Fire chiefs said the battle to bring the blaze under control is expected to go on all night.

A nearby garage has been evacuated.

Pupils at local schools took shelter inside before being allowed home.

A large police cordon has been placed around the scene.

Northern Rail has suspended its train service through Newton Aycliffe and Horndale Avenue is closed in all directions between Northfield Way, Pease Way and Greenfield Way.

Police are warning people nearby to stay indoors, close all doors and windows.

There is currently no information about the cause of the fire.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been informed.

The smoke plume from the fire is heading towards Darlington but it is not believed to be toxic and is not causing any problems for traffic. The fire service has advised that there is no risk of a secondary explosion.

Andrew Bowman, who was nearby when the factory exploded, said: “I was less than quarter of a mile away from it but could feel the heat from the fire and could feel the explosions in the ground where I was standing.

“There were huge plumes of acrid black smoke and the flames were higher than the trees.

“Some of the roads became bottle-necked with people trying to drive away from the area because they were so worried.”

Police chief Michael Banks, said: “This is a major incident and we are working with our colleagues in the fire and rescue service, civil contingencies unit, local authority, health and safety executive and other agencies to bring the fire under control and restore normality as soon as possible.

"Fortunately there are no reports of any casualties at this time.

“I’d like to thank local people for their patience and co-operation as we work to contain this situation.”