FIREFIGHTERS were today still at the scene of an inferno which devastated a recycling centre.
Flames shot high into the air and smoke could be seen from miles around as the fire took hold at the Alex Smiles plant, in Deptford, Sunderland.
More than 20 firefighters were fighting the blaze at its peak.
People across the city dialled 999 as the night sky over Sunderland was lit orange by the flames.
Five fire appliances from Sunderland East, West, South and Central stations were at the site after the alarm was raised shortly before 9pm yesterday.
An aerial ladder platform from Sunderland North station was also called into action.
At one point, fire chiefs considered pumping water from the nearby River Wear and consulted tide tables.
However, this was ruled out after Northumbria Water increased water pressure in the area.
Onlookers parked their cars along Keir Hardy Way, near the Stadium of Light, to watch the drama unfold from the opposite side of the river.
It bore a resemblance to the massive blaze that tore through a Newcastle scrapyard on Thursday.
A statement posted on the Alex Smiles website last night said the blaze was under control.
It said: “The material involved is processed, non-hazardous timber.
“There are no casualties involved and the fire is currently under control, with emergency services in attendance.
“The Environment Agency and other relevant organisations have been informed.
“Alex Smiles Ltd would like to thank members of the public for their vigilance.
“Opening hours today are as normal.”
Echo digital editor Ian Laws witnessed the fire from the north side of the river.
He said: “I’d just picked up my daughter from Guides in Roker when I saw the smoke.
“I drove towards it out of curiosity and it was quite a spectacular scene.
“A couple of dozen cars had parked on Keir Hardy Way and people were out getting a look.
“I drove further along and walked down footpaths to the riverside.
“You could feel the heat from the fire that far away.
“The smoke was blowing down towards the seafront.
“I’ve no idea what caused it, of course, but after the scrapyard fire in Newcastle this week, it does make you wonder.”
Smoke, carried on the wind, left a strong smell drifting across Monkwearmouth, Fulwell, Roker and Seaburn.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Alex Smiles Ltd, established in 1973, moved to the nine-acre riverside site in 2002 and has invested £4million in transforming the business to recycle between 90 and 95 per cent of the waste it collects there.
The company collects paper, plastics, newspapers, magazines and cardboard to be baled and sold to re-processors.
It also recycles glass, cans, wood and scrap from its site.