THOUSANDS of pounds in damage was caused when fire tore through allotments.
The fierce blaze destroyed years of hard work by proud owners and left the ground scorched and covered in ash.
A dog walker rang 999 after spotting flames at Barmston Allotments, in Washington.
Allotment owners were called and managed to save about 50 pigeons from a burning cree.
One bird was killed in the fire, which also destroyed a number of empty crees and two large sheds.
Firefighters worked into the early hours to bring the blaze under control.
Investigations into the cause are still ongoing.
Furious owners believe the fire was an arson attack by thieves targeting the allotments after dark.
Former soldier Ian Murray, from Blackfell, has spent five years creating a home-from-home at the site near Teal Farm, with a gym and art room.
His two 30-metre sheds were destroyed in the fire and Mr Murray believes a number of items have been stolen.
The 52-year-old said: “They have doused the two sheds and the one next door and left a trail out of here and lit it.
“Three mountain bikes have been taken and I reckon at least £4,000 of damage has been done.”
The incident happened on Wednesday morning.
Association secretary Bob Matthews, 70, from Burnhope Road, thanked allotment owner Bill Scott who was first on the scene and helped save the terrified pigeons.
Mr Matthews, who has been secretary at the allotments for five years, said: “The fire was noticed by someone walking a dog along the railway lines at about 11pm.
“The whole stretch that went up is about 60 metres of allotments.
“The allotment holders feel nobody in authority is interested.
“It happened to me about five years ago and it’s happened about four times down here.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police confirmed investigations were under way.
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to phone police on 101 extension 69191 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.