FIVE horses were killed in an early morning stable blaze at a livery yard in Sunderland.
The fire is thought to have started some time between 4.30am and 5am today at Station House Stables in Coxgreen Road, Cox Green.
People living nearby say a female police officer on patrol in Washington saw smoke and called for help before heading to the yard and opening stable doors to rescue 15 horses.
She was helped by David Grieves, who keeps horses further down the road, who saw the blaze when he was on his way to work.
Dean Mould, part-owner of the family-run stables, said: “I was just shocked and panicked when I saw the fire.
“We kept 20 horses and ponies in the livery yard and 15 of them were let out but the five that were in the barn died.
“The owners are all devastated. Two of the horses belonged to little girls who are just heartbroken and they can’t believe it.
“Thankfully the other horses were let out because it could have been a lot worse.”
Damage caused by the fire is thought to be worth thousands of pounds, and the combined value of the horses is said to be in the thousands too. One of them used to be a jumping horse.
Firefighters were called out at about 4.55am, with two fire engines from Washington fire station dispatched to the scene.
A risk assessment vehicle also attended and the fire was extinguished using three water jets and two hose reels.
The building was divided into three stable blocks, one of which was completely destroyed by fire. A second block was damaged by fire and smoke, while the third block suffered moderate smoke damage.
Group manager John Allison, of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to the owners of the horses that tragically died in this fire. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.”
A police spokeswoman said: “Police attended and roads around the stables were closed so that the horses could be released and moved to safety and placed in a nearby field.
“The occupants on the farm were evacuated as a precaution, they were not injured in the incident.”