FIRECREWS braved searing temperatures to search a blazing house for people who may have been trapped inside.
Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue were called to the terraced house in Station Road West, Trimdon Station, County Durham around 7.40pm tonight.
A 999 call spoke of lights being on in the property and the possibility of people being inside.
Fire engines from Wheatley Hill, Sedgefield and Peterlee attended the fire, along with the aerial ladder platform from Durham.
As it turned out, extensive searches of the house revealed that there was no one at home, but had there been the outcome could have been tragic.
A joint police and fire investigation has been launched after reports of people seen in the vicinity of the property at the time the incident started.
Speaking after the blaze was put out, Keith Wanley, duty group manager for County Durham Fire and Rescue, said: "It's a standard brick built mid-terrace with slate roof and when the crews arrived it was well alight.
"Locals reported flames coming from the back of the property first and when we arrived the windows were gone and they were coming out of them. It had severely damaged the whole of the first floor, burning the windows and doors away."
Mr Wanley said the fire had also penetrated the roof void causing concern for the neighbouring properties.
"Being a mid-terrace house, it had a common roof void so we had to put crews into the properties either side in the loft to make sure that the fire didn't spread through the roof void," he said.
Because of the severity of the fire, crews, led by Station Manager Adam Hall, though able to get in on the ground floor, could not get upstairs.
"The crews did particularly well bearing in mind the severity of the fire. You get house fires and then you get very severe house fires where it gets so hot it literally strips the plaster off the walls and that is essentially what this has been," Mr Wanley said. "It has burned all of the windows out, all the plaster off the walls and that's why we were concerned about the safety of the first floor.
"They made every effort to get in by opening the windows, but the fire was so severe. They could get access to the ground floor with normal breathing apparatus and fire-fighting jets, but because of the concern over the first floor and the severity of the fire they couldn't get access internally.
"They fought it through the windows with ladders and jets and knocked the fire down and then once it was extinguished and we could see better the conditions inside they managed to gain access and confirm there was nobody in."
Mr Wanley, who said he believed the property was being rented and the landlord was not local, added that witness details had been passed to the police.
"There has been some information about a couple of people seen leaving the area shortly after the fire started which the police will be following up on," he said. "I am not suggesting it is arson, but there is some information that is being followed up on."
Mr Wanley said it was too early to say whether the property had a working smoke alarm, but he urged other householders to make sure their homes had.
"The fire service urges all residents to make sure they have working smoke alarms and if they don't they should contact us and we will come and provide free home fire safety visits and free alarms," he said.