PIGEON fanciers have been left devastated after up to 200 birds were burnt alive in a suspected arson attack.
Three lofts were destroyed and prized birds worth an estimated £20,000 were killed in the blaze, at Humbledon and Plains Farm Allotments, off Premier Road, Sunderland.
Brian Robinson was in the nearby working men’s club when he heard about the fire.
“The secretary rushed in and said ‘the lofts are alight, the lofts are ablaze.’
“I ran outside and I could see over the fence that they were blazing.
“We have gates on the exterior, so you need a key to get inside. By the time we got it, the fire brigade were there and it was too late to save the pigeons.
“It was difficult to tell exactly how many birds had been killed.
“A lot of the young ones had been completely burnt up and the lofts were a mess. There must have been between 150 and 200 pigeons.”
Two fire crews spent about two hours dealing with the blaze.
“The fire was starting to spread to my loft, but thankfully it was put out before it got there,” said Mr Robinson, 52, from Thorney Close.
“But three of the lofts were completely destroyed and a storage shed was damaged.
“We’ve had problems with vandals and break-ins before, but nothing like this.
“One of the lads had been based at the same loft for 50 years. He always said he’d fly until he died or he was burnt out.
“I think quite a few of us feel that way, but are now thinking about packing it all in.”
Oil rig worker Brian, who has been racing pigeons since 1987, said there was evidence that the firebugs has returned overnight to launch a second attack on the lofts.
“There were embers actually inside one of the other lofts, which I came across after the police and the fire brigade had left,” said the dad-of-two. “At first, we thought that it was maybe kids messing around with fire and it got a bit out of hand.
“But we’re now certain that they’ve actually broken into the buildings and tried to kill the pigeons.”
A fellow pigeon man added: “We’ve all been left disgusted by this. We can’t understand why anybody would do something like this.”
Northumbria Police are appealing for witnesses to the blaze, which broke out shortly after 8pm on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman said: “At the moment, it’s not known what has caused the fire and whether or not it was started maliciously. Police are carrying out inquiries.”
Anyone with information should call the force on 03456 043 043, extension 69191.
Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.