FAMILIES were ordered to stay indoors while 50 firefighters battled a major blaze at a former cake factory.
Huge plumes of thick black smoke could be seen drifting across Hartlepool after the three-hour fire at the disused site on the Oakesway Industrial Estate, off Winterbottom Avenue.
At the height of the fire, there were 50 firefighters from Hartlepool and neighbouring districts, six fire engines, the hydraulic platform and command control unit dealing with the incident.
The cause of the blaze, which severely damaged the single storey building, is now under investigation.
Nearby residents were told to stay inside and keep their windows and doors shut as a result of the thick black smoke, which was caused by burning felt on the roof.
After three hours the fire, was finally brought under control at 11pm last night.
Bob Robson, Cleveland Fire Brigade’s mobilising manager, said: “This was a major fire attended by around 50 firefighters.
“The main concern for local residents was the thick smoke and they were asked to close their windows and doors and stay inside.
“It is too early to say what caused the fire.”
He added that there was no reason to evacuate nearby businesses on the industrial estate.
Initially firefighters did not enter the building on safety grounds, but teams wearing breathing equipment eventually went inside to dampen down pockets of fire.
The North East Ambulance Incident Response Unit, which is called to all major incidents, also attended along with rapid response vehicles.
Nobody was injured in the fire but paramedics did treat two firefighters for serious stings after they disturbed a wasps nest in the undergrowth near the factory.
Mr Robson added: “We had a couple of firefighters injured as a result of wasp stings.
“They were quite serious and needed medical treatment.”
Officers from Hartlepool Police closed off the industrial estate to passing traffic while crews dealt with the fire.
Sergeant Ali Sah, of Hartlepool Police, said: “We had to close Oakesway as people use it as a through road between Winterbottom Avenue and Warren Road.
“This was a large scale fire and there was a large number of people, including children, watching.
“Officers made sure everybody kept clear of what was a potentially hazardous situation.”
Sgt Sah added that two panic-stricken horses grazing in a field next to the burning factory were moved as a precaution by their owner.
Inspector David Toor, of Hartlepool Police, told the Mail this morning that officers spent the night guarding the building.
Fire investigators and scenes of crime officers were due to inspect the building this morning to establish the cause.
It is understood that the factory unit, which used to be the Sweet N Savoury base, has been empty for a couple of years.
Despite warnings to stay inside, a crowd of residents gathered to watch the fire.
Unemployed Darren Pounder, a 32-year-old dad-of-four from Lime Crescent, said: “I could see the smoke from my mum’s house so I came down to have a look.
“There were lots of people out watching.”
Sean Phillips, 44, of Easington Road, added: “The smoke filled the sky, it was quite a sight.”