ARSON ATTACK: Fenland school was just 90 seconds from burning down says fire chief
PUBLISHED: 11:58 20 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:37 02 June 2010
By ADAM LAZZARI A FIRE was 90 seconds away from burning down a Fenland primary school today. That is the view of a senior fire fighter who helped to tackle the blaze at Westwood Junior School, on Maple Grove, March, at 3.45am. The fire burned down two lar
By ADAM LAZZARI
A FIRE was 90 seconds away from burning down a Fenland primary school today.
That is the view of a senior fire fighter who helped to tackle the blaze at Westwood Junior School, on Maple Grove, March, at 3.45am.
The fire burned down two large sheds, containing gazebos, marquees, cleaning fluids and sports equipment and toys.
Cleaning fluids were poured into the school's pond, killing many fish.
Sean Brown, Group Manager at Dogsthorpe Fire Station, said: "The flames were 10 to 15 metres up in the air and were starting to burn the kitchen and the brand new extension to the school hall that was opened just yesterday.
"If we had arrived just 90 seconds later I believe the whole school would have caught fire."
Approximately 25 fire fighters tackled the blaze.
Westwood Junior School Head Teacher Gill Thomas said: "I was called by our caretaker at around 3.45am, shortly after the fire started.
"He lives across the road from the school and he said he initially heard loud banging and popping from the flames and he thought somebody was being shot.
"He told me when he looked out of the window and saw the flames he thought the entire school was on fire.
"I thought 'oh my God, the SATs are in three weeks - what are we going to do.'
"I rushed straight down to the school and we are extremely lucky that the damage was not worse."
The school was established in 1955 and currently has 356 pupils, aged seven to 11.
It closed its swimming pool last year after it was repeatedly targeted by vandals.
Mrs Thomas said: "I don't know why people do this sort of thing and what they gain from it.
"We are now going to put in some CCTV. We can't go on like this."
Mrs Thomas said that the fire would not affect today's school schedule but children would not be allowed to go onto the school field while police investigations are being carried out.
She said: "The children are most upset about the fish. It's quite exciting for them to see all of the police officers around and fortunately they are not too traumatised by it."
Police sergeant Martin Monger said: "My team and additional officers will be carrying house extensive house to house enquiries and I will be applying all of my effort and time to find out who has done this.
"It is completely inappropriate that somebody finds it acceptable to damage a school and have no regards for the effect that it has on the children and the community at large.
"I would urge anyone who thinks they may have any information about this to get in touch with us."
Anyone with information should contact Det Sgt John Yore of Cambridgeshire Police on 0345 456 4564 or Crimestoppers, anonymously on 0800 555111.
A fire service spokesman said fire fighters left the scene at about 5am after preventing the fire from spreading.
"The fire has been confirmed as being started deliberately," said the spokesman.
Mr Brown added: "If it were not for the early 999 call, alerting the fire service quickly to the fire and the hard work of fire crews at the scene, these children would not be going to school this morning.
"As it was, crews found it extremely difficult to stop the fire from spreading. If the 999 call had been made two minutes later, the whole school could have been destroyed. If this had happened the loss of education and the financial consequences for the community would have been catastrophic.
"The fire service will be doing all it can to assist the police and other agencies in finding those responsible and securing a successful prosecution case to ensure that they are brought to justice."
Today's fire was the latest in a series of arson attacks in March and the surrounding area in recent months.
Biggest fire was the arson attack which destroyed St Mary's Church, Westry, last month but fire fighters also tackled a blaze last month at an industrial estate in Wimblington.
In March itself fire crews have also tackled deliberate fires a disused warehouse in Queens Street, March, and also a post box fire in New Road, March, and reports of rubbish being set alight in Rookswood Road.
March Bowls was also destroyed earlier this year by an arson attack- ironically this week plans were submitted for a new bowls club.