'I escaped using my last gasp of air' - businessman 'used garden hoses' to try and fight blaze which consumed West Boldon garage
George Wright, 62, said only adrenaline – and his last mouthful of air – saved him when Wrightway Car Parts in West Boldon, went up in smoke on Sunday evening.
Spotting a fire above an archway in the main storeroom as he washed his van outside, he rushed in and turned on a hosepipe to try to contain it.
Quickly realising it would douse the outbreak, he ran through the front door of his adjoining two-storey home to access a second hose to the rear.
To his dismay, its jet could not reach the blaze, which had broken out at the front of the Victorian-era site, facing A184 Newcastle Road.
Mr Wright said he did not think of his own safety as he raced back inside his home, only to find it engulfed in billowing smoke coming through a first-floor door between the properties.
By the time he fled out the front at around 8.20pm, the emergency services were racing to the scene after being alerted by neighbours.
It took firefighters over six hours to contain a blaze which also badly damaged a neighbouring terraced house and led to other evacuations.
Mr Wright said: “I’d cleaned the windows of the van and was just polishing the side when I noticed the smoke.
“It didn’t look like something that couldn’t be controlled. I turned on the hose but there wasn’t enough water, so I went into the back and turned on another one but that wouldn’t reach
“Within seconds, the smoke came billowing up the stairs, and I had to hold my breath. I ran down and outside.
Related: Fire crews remain on scene after huge garage blaze in West Boldon following series of explosions
“It was probably the adrenalin that got me out, for a second I thought that I’d had it, I only had one breath, I had nothing left. I just got down the stairs, I’d left the door open.
“I didn’t think – it’s my home, it’s my business, you don’t think rationally and that’s how people die in fires.
“I’ve lost almost everything, I’ve got the clothes I’m standing in - I can’t even use my bank cards.”
Mr Wright, a married father who has operated his business from the site for around 30 years, said he did not know what had caused the fire to start.
He insisted that no work was ongoing and that five gas cannisters on site and used for heating and the operation of a forklift truck, were carefully stored at the rear.
And he added: “It started above the archway and then went into the roof, you don’t know what is in these old buildings.
“The canisters were all in proper storage, I’ve nothing to hide and have given a statement to the police and fire brigade.
“What has happened is unbelievable, but I will rebuild. People have been fantastic and a great support. My customers and suppliers have been fantastic.”
Residents have described the blaze as a “raging inferno” and said flames towered above nearby trees and buildings and explosions creating “fireballs” in the sky.
Over 40 firefighters tackled the blaze, and investigators have now launched probe to try to uncover what caused it to start.
Fire chiefs said the inferno was extremely difficult to fight, and that a significant number of cylinders had been involved, with some exploded and landing in neighbouring properties.
They believe the fire spread from the commercial premises into the domestic accommodation through a door in the garage and spread to neighbouring homes through the roof.