Education officials are trying to find alternative accommodation for almost 500 Eastbourne schoolchildren whose school was partially destroyed by fire in the early hours of Monday morning.
Fire swept through Shinewater Primary School and Nursery School in the early hours of Monday morning.
More than 50 firefighters worked through the night to tackle the blaze in Milfoil Drive.
Police and fire investigators say the blaze was started deliberately and by lunchtime (Monday), a 14-year-old Eastbourne boy had been arrested and was being quizzed on suspicion of arson.
The school is likely to be closed for some days while education officials try and find alternative accommodation for some of the 470 plus pupils whose classrooms were destroyed in the fire.
The drama unfolded shortly before 1am on Monday morning when neighbours living in nearby in Alverstone Close and Milfoil Drive saw smoke and called the emergency services.
Firefighters from Eastbourne, Hailsham, Herstmonceux, Pevensey, Bexhill, Seaford, Hastings, Battle and Heathfield along with the Incident Command Unit and five officers were mobilised to the scene at 12.50am.
They had to force their way in to the site of the school which is behind high fences and a secure gate.
The aerial rescue pump from Eastbourne and a water carrier from Uckfield were also called.
Crews used breathing apparatus, foam, hose reel jets and main jets to tackle the blaze which broke out in the corner of a ground floor classroom.
It quickly spread on to the first floor and through the roof void to other areas of the building.
As dawn broke, the fire had been brought under control but fire investigators and police say almost half of the school building has been destroyed.
A text message was sent out early in the morning to parents of pupils saying the school would be closed but a planned trip by Year 3 pupils to Blackland Farm did go ahead.
Headteacher Theresa Buttery was called to the school at 1am and said the scene was devastating and there was severe fire, smoke and water damage.
Stuart Gallimore, the county council’s director of children’s services, said, “The fire began in the early hours of this morning and damage has been caused to around half of the teaching areas of the school, in areas used by years three, four, five and six.
“The school and the council are working together to find alternative provision for the pupils as quickly as possible, however, our first priority has to be the safety of the children.
“At this stage we don’t know the cause of the fire. This has been an upsetting incident for everyone concerned with the school but we’re thankful that no-one has been hurt and we’d like to thank the fire service who have worked through the night to tackle the blaze and its aftermath.
“We will continue to keep parents informed of the situation as it develops in the coming days.”
On Monday afternoon a spokesperson for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said, “Fire service investigators remain at the scene at Shinewater Primary School, which has been badly damaged in the fire and is being treated as suspicious.
“The fire investigation will take some time to complete. A re-inspection is planned to double check that there are no hot spots left.”
Chief Inspector Emma Brice, the police commander for Eastbourne, said, “We would like to speak with anyone who may have seen or heard something suspicious in the area. People can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 101 quoting reference 0033 of 12/10.”
Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell visited the scene Monday morning and praised the work of firefighters who managed to save so much of the school building.
“This is terrible news for everyone at the school, but especially the pupils who will have to cope with disruption to their learning so early in the school year,” said Mrs Ansell.
“Understandably, pupils, parents and staff are very upset with what has happened but I’m sure the school will rebuild and go from strength to strength. It was also great to see that a school trip went ahead as planned despite the fire.
“Thanks must go to the emergency services for saving as much as they could in what was a serious blaze. Without their wonderful intervention, this would have been much worse.”
Langney councillor and acting chair of the school governors at Shinewater Alan Shuttleworth said, “Firstly I just want to say how devastated I am. On behalf of the staff, the children, parents and the whole community I can say its been a deep shock to all of us.
“I am relieved no one was hurt and I am extremely proud of the work of the fire brigade. I also want to recognise the work of Theresa Buttery, who is an excellent headteacher and has done a lot of great work for the school and the community as a whole.
“All of us on the board of governors are right behind Theresa going forward.”
At Tuesday’s East Sussex County Council’s cabinet committee meeting, council leader Keith Glazier thanked the fire brigade for doing a “great job” in minimising the damage at Shinewater, and praised the efforts of the headteacher and staff.
David Tutt, leader of the Lib Dem Group at the council and the first chair of governors at Shinewater, said, “It was heartbreaking to see the devastation that was caused but the work of the firefighters to contain it as they did I think is a really, really tremendous piece of work.”
Alan Shuttleworth, who is the local member and acting chair of governors at Shinewater, said, “It was a very sad day and it’s a very sad time for the children, all the staff and particularly the headteacher.”
He said he hoped they could “get things back to normality as soon as possible”.
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