COUNTY NEWS: Likely cause of major school fire revealed

The fire service has this morning revealed the likely cause of a major fire at a Sussex secondary school.

The fire started at around 8am on Sunday and raged for more than seven hours. Picture by Eddie Mitchell
The fire started at around 8am on Sunday and raged for more than seven hours. Picture by Eddie Mitchell

“At this stage we believe the most likely cause of the fire was accidental ignition caused by a workman carrying out maintenance on the roof,” West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service said following the major blaze at The Academy in Selsey, near Chichester.

“There is no evidence to support online speculation that this was arson.”

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The first of more than 60 999 calls made to the Sussex Control Centre was from a roofer to say a partition on the roof was alight at 07.54am, the fire service said.

The fire has destroyed most of the building. Picture by Eddie Mitchell

Three crews from Chichester, Selsey, and Bognor arrived within minutes of each other just after 8am.

The fire was only brought under control at around 3pm the same day and most of the secondary school has been destroyed.

Around 400 pupils are enrolled at the school, and with the new term set to start in only two weeks’ time, plans are being put in place for where they will all go.

Head teacher Tom Garfield said: “Our primary focus is to minimise the disruption for students starting the autumn term in two weeks’ time.

More than 100 firefighters tackled the blaze. Picture by Eddie Mitchell

“We are working closely with local authorities to put contingency plans into place as quickly as possible.

“We will update all parents and pupils as soon as we can.

Despite the efforts of more than 100 firefighters, large parts of the school have suffered extensive structural damage and much of its contents have been lost or destroyed.

The fire was one of the largest attended by West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service in recent years and required a significant amount of resources.

As well as the crews from West Sussex and Hampshire at the scene it also involved a large and constantly changing number of fire appliance standby moves to maintain fire cover across the county, all of which had to be managed by operators in the Sussex Control Centre.

Because of high winds the fire spread at rapid speed and soon engulfed the whole school.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gavin Watts said: “Unfortunately on this occasion there was little that could be done to stop it spreading so quickly and it is a sad sight to see such a local asset so badly damaged.

“Thanks to the efforts of the crews we were able to prevent it spreading to all parts of the school however, and I’m particularly pleased there were no injuries reported.

“I’m also glad that we were able to protect the neighbouring properties including the thatched houses that are part of Selsey’s appeal.

“It has been a great shock to the local community and all those people directly involved with the school, but they were tremendous in their support.

“What we hope for now is for the school to recover and the disruption to be kept to a minimum as it is being rebuilt.”

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