Witnesses have described seeing a "horrific" blaze which tore through shops in a town centre street.
Fire crews were called to Hetton at 6am today where the upstairs of a property in Richard Street was well alight.
The fire tore through Hetton Computer Centre and Fur Babies Dog Grooming.
Four fire appliances and and the platform were called to deal with the blaze after being alerted by a member of the public.
An investigation is being launched into the cause of the fire.
One man who was passing the area at the time the fire broke out told the Echo: "I was driving through Hetton and there was just black smoke right through the place.
"I could see it was next to the computer shop.
"I spoke to two people from the fire brigade to tell people where it was.
"One of the woman in the flat opposite where the fire was got out just in case because slate started falling off the roof of the buildings."
A woman who works close to where the fire began said: "Railings have been put up to stop people waling past.
"It was quite horrific when we saw it here this morning.
"There were ambulances and five fire engines out too as well as two police vans.
"There were gas and electric vans here because obviously they had to disconnect things.
"I saw three ambulances going to other call outs and they couldn't get through because the road was shut."