Verulam School, St Albans, just minutes from being engulfed in flames, say firemen

PUBLISHED: 09:41 26 February 2009 | UPDATED: 13:57 06 May 2010

Firemen say school building within minutes of being engulfed in flames

Firemen say school building within minutes of being engulfed in flames

FLAMES were just minutes away from engulfing the entire roof of a school s main building after a suspected arson attack during class hours on Tuesday morning. The blaze at Verulam School, St Albans, started in a first-floor room at around 11.30am and quic

FLAMES were just minutes away from engulfing the entire roof of a school's main building after a suspected arson attack during class hours on Tuesday morning.

The blaze at Verulam School, St Albans, started in a first-floor room at around 11.30am and quickly spread into the roof space and neighbouring classrooms where lessons had been taking place.

The fire, in the block by the entrance to the school in Brampton Road, caused significant damage to a number of rooms and students were sent home for the day.

A crew from St Albans fire station was on the scene within four minutes of being alerted to the incident, by which time the entire school had been evacuated.

Watch commander, Tony Bates, said the fire had already spread through the ceiling and was moving along the roof and into neighbouring rooms on their arrival. He explained that fires could travel along wooden roof beams in minutes.

He added: "If it had got hold of the roof it would have been extremely difficult to put out as a roof is designed to keep water out so it is not easy to get water in. If it had properly taken hold of the roof it would have been a real struggle to save it. We got there really quickly but if we had been much longer it could have been a different story."

Five fire engines and the aerial ladder platform were called to the scene to tackle the blaze which was out within an hour.

But the crews spent the afternoon cutting away the smouldering roof to dampen down any hotspots. They also had to pump away water which flooded into the classrooms from burst pipes in the roof and from the firefighting efforts.

Watch commander Bates, who commended the school for their quick evacuation, said there was fire, smoke and water damage to three first-floor rooms and the roof, as well as water damage to some ground-floor rooms.

The school reopened yesterday (Wednesday) morning but will be closed again for fire alarm checks for two days starting today (Thursday).

In a statement released yesterday, head teacher Paul Ramsey said: "Although deeply shocked by yesterday's fire, I was impressed by the exemplary conduct of students and the calm professionalism of staff. That led to the swift and safe evacuation of the building."

Fire investigators and police have been busy trying to establish how the fire was started.

Since Tuesday, it has also emerged that there was another small fire at the school on Monday at around the same time.

Police have charged two teenagers with arson recklessly endangering lives.

One of them was charged with the same offence twice, relating to both of this week's incidents. He was due to appear in court this morning (Thursday).

The other boy was charged in connection with Monday's fire and given police bail until March 12.

Police are appealing for information and witnesses about the fire. Detective Constable Andrew Boyer, investigating, urged anyone who had information on either of this week's incidents to get in touch.

He also thanked staff and pupils for their co-operation and patience on Tuesday.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the DC Boyer on 0845 33 00 222 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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