A BUSINESSMAN says £100,000 of damage may have been caused after the Indian takeaway he has run for 30 years was destroyed in a suspected arson attack.
Zeba Balti, in Hylton Road, was engulfed by flames in the early hours of yesterday, destroying the shop, its kitchen and cooking equipment.
It is thought that those responsible broke into the family-run Millfield store through its back door before starting the blaze.
Owner and dad-of-three Jalal Ahmed says he has been left stunned by the devastation.
However, he told the Echo he wants to get the popular takeaway open again as soon as he can.
“We don’t know exactly how it happened yet but the fire brigade and the police are working to find out,” he said.
“We’re speaking to the insurers to see how much damage there is, but it could be up to £100,000.
“We closed at 11.30pm on Monday and we left at that time.
“Monday night is not as busy as other nights so we aren’t open late.”
Fire engines from Sunderland North, East, South and West stations were sent to the scene, with more than 20 fire-fighters working to put out the inferno.
A special command unit from Newcastle was also present.
Two hose reels and one water jet were used to put out the fire in the three-story building, the second and third floors of which were being renovated.
Initially, someone was reported as being inside the building while it was on fire, but following a search no one was found.
Staff from the gas and electricity boards then switched off all power at Zeba, while people from neighbouring properties were evacuated for their own safety.
Mr Ahmed, of Ashbrooke, pledged to customers that he will be working swiftly to get Zeba back open.
The 53-year-old recently sold the building, but continues to rent the bottom floor.
“We’re trying our best to get things sorted quickly,” said Mr Ahmed.
“We’re having a look at the damage now but we want to open as soon as possible.
“We will be coming back and we want to let people know that.”
Police officers sealed off the area around the building in the hours that followed.
A woman who works in a shop just doors away from Zeba says there have been a number of fires in the area in recent months which could have been more serious.
The worker, who did not want to be named, said: “If you put rubbish out the back of your shop, it often gets set on fire. I had to chase some people away who set some bin bags alight one day.
“The number of things of things that have been burned is ridiculous.
“There are some real idiots around here.”
A spokesman for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and Northumbria Police say the cause of the fire is now under investigation, but it is being treated as suspicious.
Zeba is the favourite Wearside takeaway of Sunderland-born stage actor Ben Forster, who last year won ITV’s Superstar competition.
On hearing the news, he tweeted: “The guy that owns it is so nice and at least everyone is OK.
“Hurry back Zeba.”