AN investigation is continuing into what sparked a huge blaze which tore through a former college building.
Firefighters initially said in the aftermath of the fire at the disused Shiney Row campus of Sunderland College they feared arsonists had struck at the site.
As the probe gets under way, officers say malicious ignition remains one possibility, but they are also looking into whether an electrical fault could be the cause.
While they know the fire alarm within the building was set off, they are awaiting the records for the site’s burglar alarm to establish whether the building was broken into in the lead-up to the incident.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said it could not send firefighters into the building because of fears the former administration block would collapse.
A specialist decontamination unit was also sent to the site, off Success Road, to ensure officers were not put at risk from any asbestos which had been inside the blazing building.
Access to the building was difficult, as it was secure, and there was a limited water supply.Firefighter John Allison
The first floor of the left-wing of the two-storey building was severely damaged by fire and the ground floor was severely damaged by heat and smoke when the fire broke out just before 6.30pm on Monday.
No one was in the building at the time and no one was injured.
The fire was extinguished by 8.10pm, with conditions made especially tough because of the location of the blaze within the complex, as well as difficulties gaining access to a quadrant next to the former offices because the building was locked up.
Group Manager John Allison, who is based at Sunderland Central Fire Station, said: “Access to the building was difficult, as it was secure, and there was a limited water supply.
“Our crews worked extremely hard to stop the fire spreading to other parts of the building.
“The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
“The crews worked very hard in extremely arduous circumstances.
“It was a complex and difficult fire which was prevented from spreading to other areas of the site and mitigating the affects to neighbours and residents in the surrounding area.
“It couldn’t have been in a more awkward place to get access to.”
Mr Allison added he will be unable to send fire investigators into the building because it is at risk of collapse, with a demolition team likely to be sent in to level the area.
Firefighters, who included crews from Rainton Bridge, North Moor, Washington and Newcastle, were helped by an aerial ladder platform brought in from Fulwell, which helped them fight the flames and smoke from above.
Karen Wade, director of facilities management at Sunderland College, said: “The campus has been vacant since last summer and therefore there has been no impact to our staff and students as a result of the fire, and thankfully nobody was hurt.
“The college will continue to seek a developer to take forward plans for the Shiney Row site.”
It has previously submitted plans to Sunderland City Council for permission to build 114 family homes on the land.