A FIRE chief has warned that arsonists are putting lives at risk after a suspected arson attack at a derelict South Tyneside shipyard.
Five fire crews battled “difficult and dangerous” conditions to extinguish the blaze at the former Hawthorn Leslie building in Ellison Street, Hebburn, yesterday morning.
The cause of the fire, just before 10am, is not yet known, but the fire service believe it was started deliberately and have launched a joint probe with police.
An aerial ladder platform was used to check for fire spreading to the upper floors and roof of the building, while crews faced potential hazards, such as discarded propane cylinders.
Firefighters have been called out numerous times to put out blazes started by firebugs at the disused site in recent years.
Hawthorn Leslie’s closed in 1982 and was later acquired by Cammell Laird and A & P group, but now lies derelict.
The Victorian building has been plagued by arsonists and vandals for years.
Nearby residents have called for it to be flattened on safety grounds, while police, and the fire service have issued warnings to yobs starting fires on the site.
When it was deemed safe enough to enter the building, eight firefighters wearing specialist breathing apparatus went into the basement to fully extinguish the fire.
The fire was put out within an hour and a half. No one was inside the building at the time of the fire and no one was injured.
Group manager Ian Cuskin, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, attended the incident. He said: “The firefighters did an excellent job in difficult and dangerous conditions, with additional hazards in and around the building, such as discarded propane cylinders which, had they become involved in the fire, would have posed a serious threat.
“The fire itself was contained to the basement, with attending crews working extremely hard to prevent the fire from spreading further.
“We have been called out to numerous incidents at this building over the years, and it presents a definite risk to the safety of our firefighters and the public.
“Unfortunately, it can’t be demolished because it is a listed building.”
Dating back to the 1880s, when Newcastle firm R&W Hawthorn amalgamated with the shipbuilding company launched by Hebburn-based Andrew Leslie, the yard was once one of the most revered shipbuilding facilities on the Tyne, famous for building.
It launched many high-class vessels, including HMS Kelly, which was later immortalised in the wartime film, In Which We Serve.
However, the yard has become a dangerous magnet for young firebugs since the premises closed.