A NEIGHBOUR told how she tried in vain to rescue a seven-year-old girl from her burning home.

Kathleen Wilkinson, 63, scaled a 5ft fence using a stepladder, went in through the back door and tried to crawl under the smoke on her hands and knees to reach the little girl – but was pushed back by acrid smoke in the house in Esk Road, Darlington, on Saturday.

The girl was rescued by firefighters. She was carried out of the house unconscious and is currently in the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Her condition last night remained critical.

Mrs Wilkinson said: “I was in the conservatory putting up Christmas decorations and I heard a commotion out the front, people shouting the little girl’s name.

“There were some family members and friends outside calling to her. I could hear crackling, the fire was intense.

“I went out the back and climbed over the fence using a stepladder. I just pushed the back door open and got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the kitchen floor just calling her name and saying, come down here to me. I didn’t hear anything back.

“I got so far and then the smoke just hit me, and I couldn’t go on. It was proper, black, acrid smoke.”

Three fire engines and a number of ambulances were on scene within 15 minutes and firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the property to find the girl.

Mrs Wilkinson said: “It didn’t take them long to find her but it felt like a lifetime.”

The girl was said to be unconscious when she was brought out and was initially taken to The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, then later transferred to Newcastle RVI’s specialist burns unit.

Neighbours said a four-year-old and a family friend were also in the property, but escaped. They were not seriously


Police are working alongside fire investigators. Detective Inspector Andy Reynolds reassured the community that it is an isolated incident.

He said: “Our early enquiries would suggest that this was not a deliberate act, but the investigation into the cause is continuing.

“Our thoughts are with the young girl in hospital.”

A 16-year-old boy has been released under investigation.