The occupant of a flat told how he and his partner escaped with their lives following an early-morning blaze.
Chas Stoddard and partner Dee Stobie got out with just the clothes on their back before their home filled with smoke from a devastating fire in a storage unit below.
Fire crews spent four hours putting the fire out which happened in Eden Street, Horden, in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Chas, 58, who has lived in the flat for six years with Dee, 53, said: “This almighty bang woke my missus up then I noticed the kitchen had suddenly filled with smoke.
“We scrambled into some clothes and legged it out. Within 30 seconds smoke was pouring out the front door.
“I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t got out when we did.”
Moments earlier, Chas had gone to investigate a noise in the yard to the property at about 4.15am and found the padlock to the gate had been broken.
He said he bolted the gate on a suspected trespasser and called the police before learning of the fire.
The fire brigade says it is set to investigate the cause, while Chas says a man has been arrested.
The scale of the damage to the property could be seen with burned out windows, severe heat damage to the storage unit and burned debris piled in the alleyway.
Chas and Dee’s beloved cat Ozzie died in the incident.
Chas added: “Both of us are just utterly heartbroken over the death of the cat. He was a much loved member of our family. The rest of it we can deal with.” Luckily, Chas was up at the time the fire broke out otherwise he says he and Dee could “very easily” have died.
“I’m very much a night owl,” he said. “It just so happened I was watching something on the BBC iPlayer and didn’t feel particularly tired.
“I heard this banging downstairs and thought ‘that’s a bit odd’.”
Three fire engines attended at 4.30am and another crew left at about 9.30am.