Warning to stay away from arson site as police investigation continues

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Fire chiefs are urging people to stay away from the site of a former working men’s club following a suspected arson attack.

Residents living near to the former Comrades Club in Station Avenue North, Fencehouses, say the site which has lain dormant for at least 15-months has become a magnet for troublemakers.

Fire crews from Rainton Bridge, Birtley, Washington and Farringdon were called to the site, at around 5.10pm on Sunday after the alarm was raised by residents, who saw flames coming from a small building adjacent to the main building which had once housed a pet shop and taxi firm.

It is believed the building has been earmarked for apartments.

One resident said: “You could see the flames going up the side of the building and the smoke.

“It has been empty for about 15-months now and it has become an awful place.

“We are constantly on the phone to the police, people are coming smashing windows, you’ve got kids drinking and playing music and whatever else they are getting up to - it’s just an eyesore.

“We never had any bother when it was a Working Men’s Club. 
“We have been in touch with our MP in the past and there was an increase in police presence.

“But now, people are using it as a dumping ground - it was only a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.”

The blaze, which destroyed the small building, has prompted firefighters to issue a warning to young people of the dangers of hanging around abandoned buildings and starting fires.

Watch manager James Ferguson said: “If we had been 10 minutes later there is no doubt the fire would have spread to the building.

“We have been extremely lucky to catch it when we did.”

He added: “We spent some time getting the fire under control and it was only due to the quick response from the crews we were able to stop the fire from spreading to the club.

“We can’t stress enough how dangerous it is for people to hang around abandoned buildings and how quickly fires can spread.

“I would ask parents to speak to their children and remind them of these dangers before someone is seriously injured or even killed.”

Watch manager Ferguson also thanked the public for their assistance and co-operation with the crews as they tackled the flames.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said inquiries into the blaze are ongoing.