A BLAZE has caused an estimated £1.5million of damage to a car dealership.
The Evans Halshaw Renault showroom in Gilesgate Moor, Durham City, was gutted in yesterday’s fire.
About 20 families in Bell Vue Court had to be evacuated from their homes for several hours.
Staff have been transferred to the Quicks Garage at Stoneygate, Houghton, which is owned by the same company.
Dealer principal Shaun McGill yesterday said: “The business is destroyed, along with about five cars in the showroom and possibly six or eight in the workshop.
“All 42 staff will be moving to Stoneygate, and we aim to be open there on Saturday.”
The blaze started in the early hours of yesterday when smoke was seen coming from the roof space of the showroom.
An electrical failure was reported at about 3.30am at the neighbouring petrol filling station, and people living nearby said their power went off.
Northern Power Grid sent five vehicles and a road contractor to the scene as work began on restoring services.
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service sent two aerial ladder platforms and six fire engines to deal with the blaze.
Area manager Alan Kernaghan said: “We were called at 4.45am after a police patrol saw smoke coming from the building.
“We estimate the damage to cars and the property to be around £1.5million.”
He added: “Nearby houses were evacuated, but there was no one in the garage at the time so there have been no injuries.
“The fire was contained in the Evans Halshaw building, and the investigation into the cause is continuing.”
Police said officers, along with the fire service, were keeping an open mind about the cause of the blaze.
Investigators are expected to carry out inquiries inside the building today, once it has been declared safe to enter.
Roads were closed off and diversions put in place throughout the Gilesgate area, with police suggesting they could remain in force overnight.
People were asked to avoid the area and follow the signs for the diversions, which still allowed access to Tesco and surrounding retail parks.
Chief Inspector Colin Williamson said: “Police are working together with our colleagues in the fire service to contain this situation and establish a return to normality as soon as possible.”