A YOUNG family and an elderly woman were forced to flee their homes after a string of suspected arson attacks.
Police believe the same person or people are behind the four separate attacks, which took place during a three-hour period in South Stanley, County Durham, in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Seven people had their lives put at risk as two front doors, a shed and a wooden hut were set alight.
Anthony Leadbitter, his partner Danielle Varty, and their three children Kershearar, four, Courtney, two, and Dillen, seven months, managed to escape after something was put through their letter box and set alight.
Anthony, 26, alerted the rest of his family after he was woken up by a smoke alarm at around 4.40am at their home on Holly Hill Gardens East.
Less than an hour earlier, pensioner Margaret Stewart had the shed in her back yard set alight, damaging the guttering, back door frame and windows of her home in on Durham Road.
Neighbours banged on her door to alert the 87-year-old who was left shaken by the incident. Neighbour Julia Conway said: “I was woken by the sparks and rang 999 straight away. We had to hammer on the door to wake Margaret as she’s not got great hearing.
“It’s absolutely disgusting that someone has done this. They deserve locking up.”
A third attack was carried when another front door was torched on Holly Hill Gardens East, minutes before the attack on Anthony’s home, on the same street.
The occupant of that home was also woken by smoke and managed to escape unharmed.
Finally, at 6.10 am, a wooden hut on an allotment on nearby Chester Road Estate was targeted.
Neighbourhood inspector Amanda Cathrine, of Stanley Policing Team, said they were treating the attacks extremely seriously.
She said: “Anyone who deliberately sets fire to property, particularly houses, shows a complete disregard for the potential consequences. At one of these addresses the house was rapidly filling up with smoke which could have been fatal for the occupants had they not awoken.
“Damage was only kept to a minimum due to the prompt response of the public and fire service.
“I would urge anyone with information about those responsible to report it to the police at once.
“Due to the timing and close proximity, there is reason to believe that the first three incidents are certainly linked and it’s possible the fourth is also related.” John Rodham, watch manager at High Handenhold Fire Station, who had crews at the scenes of some of the fires, said: “Fortunately for the family in Holly Hill Gardens, they had their house heavily smoke-alarmed and were woken by the alarms.
“This once again is an example of how smoke alarms save lives and it is vital every household should have working alarms.”
Anyone with any information should contact Durham Police on 0345 6060365.