Whitley Bay church fire: 'Insane how quickly it took hold'

The fire as it began to take hold.
The fire as it began to take hold.

One of the eyewitnesses who discovered and first reported last night's fire at an empty church in Whitley Bay has described how what they thought was candles quickly became a massive blaze.

Emergency services spent hours tackling a major fire at the Trinity United Reformed Church on the Esplanade in Whitley Bay last night.

The fire as it began to take hold.

The fire as it began to take hold.

Today, police reported that they are treating the incident as suspicious and have arrested a 56-year-old man amid a further call for witnesses.

The first call to the incident came from a couple - who do not wish to be named due to the potential need to be witnesses in court - who were on their way back from a restaurant when they saw what they thought were candles alight.

The woman said: "When we realised it was abandoned, my fiancé jumped over the railings and checked that it was a fire and rang 999. I then ran and banged on the church hall doors as the lights were on and we heard banging which turned out to be the fire taking hold inside.

"I ran to a B&B across the road to get people to move their cars, but we had to move ourselves away because of the smoke."

Overnight, the couple were still unable to get to their car as it was parked within the police cordon which surrounded the scene.

Flames appear as the fire gets more intense.

Flames appear as the fire gets more intense.

The woman added: "It's insane how quickly it took hold. Within 10 minutes of us noticing what we first thought was candles, the whole building was alight and it was blazing out of the top window. It was so loud."