SCORES of residents had to be evacuated from a six-storey town centre block of flats while firefighters tackled a kitchen blaze.
Dozens of firefighters from across Teesside raced to Titan House, in York Road, Hartlepool, after a chip pan fire on the fourth floor sparked the drama earlier today.
Around 40 people had to leave their homes as crews searched every one of the 49 flats in the building.
Many residents were sleeping at the time and had to be roused by fire crews.
The drama, which began around 3am, lasted around two-and-a-half hours before residents were allowed back into their flats.
A cordon was put up around the former office block and cars were diverted away from the stretch of York Road, between Victoria Road and Park Road.
Today fire chiefs said if it had not been for the building’s smoke alarms there could have been numerous casualties.
Cleveland Fire Brigade officials have advised against leaving chip pans unattended, as it is understood that was the cause of the fire.
Steve Kitching, acting watch manager at Stranton Fire Station, said: “There was smoke issuing from the building when we arrived and the alarms in the building were actuating.
“There was acrid smoke in the flat and it was hard to see.
“We evacuated residents, including five people from the floor of the fire itself.
“There were still people asleep in the flats and we had to give them a knock.
“There were quite a few doors in the premises that we had to break into to make sure nobody was in.
“The incident was caused by a chip pan fire in the flat and the two people from that property had managed to get out.”
Mr Kitching urged residents to make sure their smoke alarms are working, adding: “Working smoke alarms do save lives.
“If it hadn’t been for the alarms, there could have been a different outcome.
“Thankfully everyone was ok.”
Officers from Hartlepool Police were called to the incident, to help with the safety cordon.
Inspector Bernie Hanson said: “This could have been disastrous.
“Fortunately everyone got out ok.”
The incident involved 25 firefighters from five fire stations, including two from Stranton, one from the Headland, one from Billingham, one from Stockton and the brigade’s command support unit attended the incident.
Eight sets of breathing apparatus and two water jets were used to tackle the incident.
There was fire damage to the kitchen area of the flat, as well as smoke damage to the whole fourth floor.