NIGHT shift staff at a recycling centre escaped a blaze in the early hours of this morning.
Firefighters spent more than six hours fighting a fire at the Asda operation, in Pattinson Industrial Estate, Washington.
An electrical fault in an industrial floor scrubber is thought to have sparked the flames, which spread to a stack of pallets.
About a dozen staff had to be evacuated from the 75,000 square foot building after the alarm was raised at about 1.20am.
Seven fire crews from Washington, Sunderland, Birtley and Hebburn stations attended the scene.
Two crews wearing breathing apparatus used one hose reel and one jet to put out the fire, which destroyed the gas-powered floor scrubber.
Washington watch manager Gary Carabine said: “We got the fire out relatively quickly, but were left with a lot of smoke to get rid of.
“We used four positive pressure ventilation fans and the plant should be up and running shortly.”
The £9 million plant took nine months to build and can process recycling for up to 50 Asda stores.