Firefighters are battling through the night after a blaze ripped through city centre stores.
Flames engulfed shops in Blandford Street as spectators looked on in horror and crews struggled to bring the fire under control.
It is understood the fire started around 6pm on Wednesday at the Peacocks clothing store.
Emergency services flocked to the street and a large area was cordoned of by Northumbria Police.
“It started out as just smoke and the flames came through the roof,” said Shanice Pryce, 19.
“There cloud of smoke was huge and there’s ash on the roads through the streets.
“It’s been a few hours and you can still see the flames. It goes dark in the windows and then you can see them again.
“I live nearby and the flat smelled like smoke I’ve had to shut all the windows.”
Another bystander, Michelle Scott said: “I live nearby and I heard a huge bang, it sounded like the roof had come in.
“You don’t expect this to happen. My daughter could have been walking by just as it happened.”
An orange glow filled the sky in Sunderland as firefighters on two aerial ladders battle to extinguish the growing flames.
From the scene, Chris Lowther, chief fire officer and chief executive for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue service tweeted: “ Even at this early stage I can thank the crews for their bravery, effort and professionalism. We are here to look after our community.”
Smoke and flames could be seen pouring out of the front and back of the buildings as flames tore through the roof.
While a police cordon remained in place throughout the evening to protect the public.
One witness, who asked not to be named, said: “I went out and it was just smoke at first and soon the flames were so high.
“The front of the shop collapsed and this was quite a bang. I wasn’t expecting the fire to be that big. It seemed to start off in the corner and it just spread.”
Sunderland has come out in support of emergency services who worked tirelessly battling the devastating blaze.
Five fire engines from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service attended the incident with two aerial ladders in use. Dozens of firefighters, police officers and paramedics were at the scene.