ARSONISTS caused tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage after torching five vehicles in streets across Sunderland.
Residents today spoke of their shock as they were woken up to find their cars and vans on fire, just metres from their doorsteps.
The damage came as Sunderland was named as one of the worst places in the country for car crime.
The first fire was started on a Ford Ka parked in Blossom Grove, Philadelphia, shortly after 1.30am yesterday morning. The vehicle was destroyed.
Fire crews were then diverted to a van on fire just around the corner, in Aster Terrace.
The owner of the Citroen Berlingo, Simon Hughes, and his wife Lisa woke at about 2am to find flames shooting up out of the van.
“I just woke up and the cream curtains were orange from the fire outside,” Lisa said.
The pair raced outside to rescue paperwork kept in the van relating to Simon’s job as a self-employed electrician.
“I was gutted. It’s my livelihood,” he said.
“There were no tools in there, but all my paperwork was inside. If I didn’t get that out I wouldn’t get paid, but we managed to get it out in time.
“The fire crews were here within a couple of minutes. They had already been called to Blossom Grove.”
Neighbours say they are hoping potential CCTV footage in the street will give officers vital clues to catch those responsible.
Another car, a Vauxhall Astra, parked in nearby Success Road was also destroyed by fire.
The owner of a BMW parked in Chester Street, Grasswell, was then woken up by the sound of her car alarm going off between 2am and 2.30am.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said she looked outside to see the bonnet of her car on fire.
She was able to quickly raise the alarm, but not before the front door of her house was damaged.
“If it hadn’t been for the alarm it would’ve have been much worse,” she said.
“Thanks to some mindless thugs, I have had to take the day off work. They are probably sleeping it off now.
“I now have all the inconvenience of not having a car and having to use public transport.”
The fifth car targeted was parked in a rear lane of nearby Hylton Terrace.
Inspector Lisa Musgrove, of Northumbria Police, said: “An investigation is under way to identify the people responsible for these fires, and we are appealing for anyone who was in the area at the time and saw anyone acting suspiciously or anything out of the ordinary to contact us.
“No one was injured in these incidents and the fires were quickly extinguished, but we understand that incidents of this nature cause concern for local people.”
John Hall, of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, added: “Whilst no one was injured as a result of the fires, there is no doubt that the situation could have resulted in more serious consequences.”
The damage came as Sunderland was named one of the worst places in the North East for car crime.
Drivers in the centre of the city and Hendon, with the postcode SR1, reported 467 offences per 10,000 cars, topped only by Newcastle.
The data, compiled from Freedom of Information Act covers the period between October 2011 and September 2012.
Today, following the release of the report, Northumbria Police reaffirmed its commitment to cutting car crime.
A spokesman said: “We also need the public’s help to combat this type of crime, and would always remind motorists to secure their vehicle, even if leaving it for just a few seconds, by locking doors and ensuring windows are closed.
Also, overnight on Thursday, 16 vehicles parked in the area around Logan Terrace in South Hetton, had their tyres slashed.