South Shields allotment fire kills dozens of pigeons
Around 70 pigeons have died in a suspected arson attack at allotments in South Shields.
Firecrews from South Shields, Hebburn, Marley Park and Washington stations tackled the blaze at Holder House allotments in Whiteleas last night.
South Shields crew manager Phil Sowerby said the call had come in around 12.30am.
"By the time we got there, it was a pretty big fire," he said.
"Flames could be seen above the treetops."
The lay-out and location of the allotments had hindered efforts to tackle the blaze, said watch manager Sowerby.
"There was restricted access and there were some problems with limited water supply, which did not help," he said.
"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."
Crews had protected chickens and geese on the allotments from the flames but discovered the pigeons on an inspection of the site this morning.
The fire took around three hours to extinguish. Its cause is not known but is suspected to be malicious.
One allotment holder, who did not wish to be named, said: "My mate was here before me and he found it like this. It is very close to me, so I have been very lucky.
"It happened about five years ago - the whole lot was burned out. It was terrible, everyone had to rebuild.
"This fire could have wiped everyone out again.
"I have not spoken to the guy who owns the loft, but he was very upset. You could tell just by looking at him. You can see how heartbreaking it would be."
Allotment holders had been worried about the possibility of another fire: "You are locking up and going home and frightened to come back the next morning," he said.
"You don't know what you are going to come to the next morning - it's terrible."