A pigeon fancier has urged arsonists who set fire to his loft and killed his collection of around 100 birds to “have a conscience” and turn themselves in.
Joe Ayre began breeding the birds as a boy and ran the loft in Hollycarrside Road with brother Bryan and friend Eddie Passmore.
The 54-year-old from Ryhope was woken in the early hours of yesterday by his daughter after she spotted the sheds on fire as she headed to work.
The fire service was quickly called in but, despite the best effort of crews, the blaze tore through the plot, causing between 90 and 100 birds to perish.
Building worker Joe, who a dad-of-three, said: “I went down and the fire brigade was there trying to put the fire out.
“I’ve been on there for about four years, but I’ve kept pigeons since I was seven. It’s difficult to say whether I’ll start again, because they might come back and do it again.
They are devastated, absolutely devastated like me.Joe Ayre
“There’s about 14 plots on here and most of them are lofts.”
He said Bryan, 51, and Eddie, 76, were also upset by the blaze.
He said: “They are devastated, absolutely devastated like me. If anyone knows anything then they should say.
“I would like to think whoever did this will come forward and get in touch, if they have any conscience.”
Fire crews from Sunderland and North Moor were called to the site at 3.30am to the blaze on the plot, which is close to the entrance to the site.
Eight fire fighters used three jets and one hose reel to extinguish the flames, but they could not save any of the birds being kept in the cree.
Crews left the scene at 5.30am and say the cause of the fire is unknown but they are treating it as suspicious.
Joe believes light fluid could have been used to light the fire as he says no gas cylinders were kept near that spot.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said two propane gas cylinders were discovered in the cree and were cooled by firefighters to make them safe.
A spokesman said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
District Manager Ian Cuskin said: “While we appreciate that gas cylinders provide a heat source for allotment holders during the winter months, they do pose a danger to the public and firefighters.
“I would urge people to safely dispose of any empty gas cylinders and put up signs to warn firefighters of the increased risk they face in the event of a fire should they be inside a shed.”
Northumbria Police has said it is not involved in the investigation.