ARSONISTS who targeted flats could have killed the occupants, a senior firefighter has warned.
A wheelie bin was pushed up against the back door of a terraced house in Chester Street, Newbottle, in the early hours of yesterday.
Three people were inside the house, which is divided into two flats, at the time.
All three escaped without injury, but watch manager Andy Trafford, of Rainton Bridge fire station, said the consequences could have been much worse, especially given the time of night at which the attack occurred.
“Obviously, there could have been fatalities,” he said.
“It was a wheelie bin in the yard that had been pushed up against the back door. It damaged the door and window of the downstairs flat and smoke-logged the upstairs.
“There were two occupants in the ground-floor flat and one in the upstairs. They had all got out by the time we arrived.”
Police had called the fire service after smoke alarms woke the residents.
Mr Trafford added: “Each property did have a smoke alarm, but we did actually fit more alarms in the properties.
“The message is: make sure you have got sufficient smoke alarms for your property and, if in doubt, contact us and we will come out and do a survey for you.”
A police spokesman confirmed the fire was being treated as deliberate and appealed for anyone who could help to come forward.
He added: “At 2.32am this morning, we received a report of a wheelie bin fire in Chester Street, Houghton.
“The fire was extinguished by the fire service but caused damage to the rear door and window of the property.
“At this stage, we are treating the incident as arson and appealing for anyone who was in the area in the early hours of the morning and may have seen or heard anything suspicious to contact police.”
Anyone with information can contact police on 101, ext 69191, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.