Devastation as blaze rips through former Sunderland bingo hall
Fire crews are still working to tackle a blaze which started last night at a former Sunderland bingo hall.
At one point up to 50 firefighters were battling flames as they tore through the building at The Green, Southwick, yesterday.
Tyne and Wear Fire Rescue Service said it was called to the scene shortly after 5.30pm - and this morning, the service has confirmed that two appliances still remain onsite as work continues.
Northumbria Police officers were also in attendance yesterday, having been called to the premises earlier in the day.
The cause of the fire remains unknown at this stage but it is understood nobody was inside the building.
Measuring 80 metres by 40 metres, a spokesman for TWFRS confirmed that parts of the building's roof had collapsed "inwards".
He said there had been no rescues or reports of injuries and that the cause of the fire is yet to be established.
A spokesman last night added: "There will be a presence at the site for most of the night as crews continue to damp down. Officers will be there for some considerable time."
Gareth Carr had been running Southwick Auction Rooms from the premises but was in the process of vacating the building after a disagreement with the landlord.
He told the Echo of his devastation.
In a statement he said: "I’ve been the tenant in the building for the past year and a half and we vacated the building earlier today after ongoing disputes with the landlord.
"I went home at 4pm after handing over the keys to him - he was still in the property - and then I got a call at 5.50pm to say the building was on fire.
"I’m totally devastated. There was about £10k-worth of stuff inside, including clients’ property, that is completely unsalvageable. We don’t have contents insurance, so that’s a big loss and we’ll get no monetary gain from it.
"We just hope to find the people responsible.
"The police had been out two or three times already today to the building because of the dispute with the landlord. Basically, he tried to take back possession of the property but we hadn’t been served notice.
"Ultimately, we’ve lost an awful lot and I hope the surrounding buildings aren’t too badly affected. I’m completely gutted."
Mr Carr added: "It's just awful. A business that has taken years to build has burned down in hours."
People at the scene spoke of their shock as fire tore through the building.
Suki Dillon, who works at her family's convenience store in The Green, said: "It all started about 5.30pm and there's been hundreds of people out watching.
"There'd been some kind of hoo-hah at that place earlier and the police were involved, then next thing you know it's all on fire. It's a really old building and it's sad that this has happened to it."
Anne Smith, 57, who lives in Southwick, said: "I use the shops in this street and I went to the bingo hall often, back when it was open.
"It's not nice to see the place burning like this."
Neil Fogg, 47, of Houghton came to the scene with son Daniel, 23.
He said: "We saw the police telling people to get back and the fire crews move in.
"The roof collapsed and one of the walls fell. It knocked over one of the lampposts. It's lying flat in the street now. We've heard a few bangs as well."
A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: "Police have been at the scene of a fire at the furniture storage building, Beaumont Street, in Southwick.
"Firefighters got the fire under control. Localised roads were closed to allow emergency services to respond. Enquiries with the fire service are ongoing into the cause of the fire."
While emergency services try to bring the fire under control, Go North East said buses in the area, including the 35A, 56, 135 and 136 services, had been disrupted.
Echo readers praised firefighters as they strived to put out the fire.
Writing on our Facebook page, Jan Angus said: "Gonna take all night to put this out! Firefighters doing an amazing job."
Shelley Robinson added: "Looks like they getting it under control slowly, great fire crews we have."