A South Shields grandad has slammed yobs suspected to have started a blaze on his allotment which left his 60 pigeons dead.
Mark Thomas said he felt “violently sick” when he saw what was left of his plot at Holder House Allotments.
Firefighters were called to the site in Holder House Way, South Shields, at 12.30am on Tuesday.
By the time Mark, who works as a taxi driver, saw it, there was nothing left but ashes and thousands of pounds worth of damage.
The 43-year-old said: “When I walked in and saw it I felt violently sick. How anyone can just do this and harm innocent birds I don’t know.
“I don’t think I’ve been targeted deliberately, I wouldn’t like to think that was the case, but it wasn’t just me who was affected and I feel sorry for the other guys who have suffered damage as well.”
Fire crews from South Shields, Hebburn, Marley Park and Washington stations were called in to tackle the blaze.
South Shields crew manager, Phil Sowerby, said: “By the time we got there, it was a pretty big fire. Flames could be seen above the treetops.”
He added: “There was restricted access and there were some problems with limited water supply, which did not help.
“Eventually, when we got four fire appliances, we had enough resources on the ground to take the fire on and extinguish it.
“There were also some LPG cylinders on hand and we had to treat them very carefully, ensuring they were cooled and firefighters’ safety was paramount.”
The fire took around three hours to extinguish. Its cause is not known but is suspected to be malicious.
Firefighters were called back to the allotment at around 11.40am when the blaze began to smoulder again.
Mark, who has two children and two grandchildren, has had the allotment for around seven years, and looked after his pigeons there with the help of his brother, David.
They’ve kept pigeons since they were children and had around 60 birds on the site.
He said: “I’ve been a taxi driver for over 20 years and I work long hours five days a week. I’m dedicated to my family but look after the birds in my spare time – it’s been a hobby of mine since I was 11, we used to keep them in the garden at our parents’ house.
“I had Birmingham rollers in there, show birds, moorheads, swallows and doves.
“They were slaughtered. They’ve been taken away from me by some despicable people.
“They couldn’t escape. They’re locked in there for a reason, because they’re good birds, but that meant that they couldn’t get away from this awful thing that someone inflicted on them.
“If you were locked in a house that was on fire at least you’d be able to get out of the windows, but my birds couldn’t do that, they were just trapped there to die.”
Mark already faced costly repairs when a fire hit the allotments around five years ago.
He said: “A lot of it was affected then and it cost us about £5,000 to replace everything then, and that was before we’d bought any of the corn, feed and straw for the birds.
“That time someone was burning rubbish and it spread, it was an accident, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this time.”
Now Mark is so disheartened by what’s happened that he won’t be returning to the allotment.
He added: “That’s it, I’m not coming back to have this devastation happen again.
“It’s too much money and too much time. I’m just going to spend time with my grandchildren and enjoy my family.”
A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “A 2.05am on Tuesday police were informed about a fire at Harton House Allotments in South Shields.
“The cause of the fire or how it started is not yet known.”