A CHILD injured in a house fire is fighting for her life in hospital.

The seven-year-old was trapped when fire raged through her Esk Road home in Darlington on Saturday.

Police initially believed the blaze was arson but now think the fire may not have been deliberate.

The girl was rescued from the blazing home by firefighters and taken to James Cook University Hospital before being transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, which has a specialist burns unit.

Police said her condition was initially thought to be stable but she is now critically ill and fighting for her life.

A joint police and fire investigation is underway into the cause of the blaze.

A teenager was arrested on suspicion of arson but has since been released under investigation.

The girl's four-year-old brother and a family friend escaped without injury but the girl is in Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary in a critical condition.

The Northern Echo understands that the girl's older brother was also in the house until a few minutes before the fire took hold.

Detective Inspector Andy Reynolds said he wanted to reassure the community that it was an isolated incident.

He said: "Our early inquiries would suggest that this was not a deliberate act but the investigation into the cause of the fire is continuing.

"Our thoughts are with the young girl in hospital."

Neighbours spoke yesterday of attempts to rescue the girl before the fire brigade arrived, but were pushed back by the 'acrid' smoke.

A 63-year-old neighbour, Kathleen Wilkinson, told on Sunday how she scaled her garden fence on a stepladder and crawled under the smoke on her hands and knees to rescue the little girl, but was pushed back by the thick, 'acrid' smoke.

Family members and friends were frantically calling to the girl, but had no response, and Mrs Wilkinson said the fire was so intense that she could hear crackling.

Three fire engines and a number of ambulances were on scene within 15 minutes and the girl was rescued from the house, unconscious.

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