PART of a derelict community centre has been burnt to the ground in a suspected arson attack.
Firefighters from Peterlee, Seaham, Durham and Wheatley Hill were drafted in after the fire broke out at the former Peterlee Community Association building, in Eden Lane.
It is thought the suspicious blaze initially took hold of a wooden building which links the main part of the centre and a wooden sports hall, with the cause now under investigation.
Crews were able to prevent the fire from spreading to the stone structure, known locally as the White House, but the remaining buildings were destroyed.
“It was well alight when we arrived,” said crew manager Richard Morgan.
“We had a problem gaining access because it is a disused building and has been well boarded up with corrugated metal sheets.
“We managed to get them off and had four breathing apparatus wearers, but they didn’t go in because we knew nobody was inside.”
The officers also used an aerial ladder platform to fight the blaze, which broke out at 9.40am.
The building, which was used by the now-defunct community association, now belongs to Durham County Council.
Corporate estate manager Steve Carroll said: “The council’s structural engineers are inspecting the building and we will be taking any measures necessary to make the building safe.”
Patricia Chapman, 47, a mother-of-four who lives with her partner in Eden Lane, said: “I saw the smoke from the kitchen and then saw the flames. A few other people went out to look.
“People were coming up in cars to see what it was, but the police sent them back down. It was really massive.”