Blaze at school on results day ‘not being treated as suspicious’

Date:20th August 2015. Picture James Hardisty. Fire at Freeston Academy School, Normanton, near Wakefield.
Date:20th August 2015. Picture James Hardisty. Fire at Freeston Academy School, Normanton, near Wakefield.

A fire which broke out at a school just as pupils were arriving to collect their GCSE results is not being treated as suspicious.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said around half of Freeston Academy, in Normanton, was damaged and the school’s ICT suite has been left gutted.

More than 50 firefighters from across the county were called to the scene after the blaze broke out at around 9.10am on Thursday.

Fire investigators continue to examine the cause of the fire but a spokesman said they “do not believe it to be suspicious.”

Eyewitnesses said smoke billowed across the town and surrounding areas as crews were called to the scene on Favell Avenue.

Lucy Carter, of Hanson Avenue, next to the school, said: “I came back home at about 9.30am and I could just see the thick black smoke.

“Then I could just see flames flying into the air and the smoke was really thick and black.

“It was a bit surreal when I was watching it because I went there myself eight years ago.

“Not long after I got home I could hear all of the sirens and more fire engines kept arriving by the second.”

Firefighters were called to the scene just minutes before year-11 students were due to collect the GCSE exam results at 10am.

And as fire crews fought the blaze pupils were allowed to collect their results from the school’s sports hall.

Ian Bitcon, area manager for safety at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said originally two fire engines attended the scene but immediately asked for support.

He said: “When the original appliances got here we had a quickly developing fire.

“Fires in the roof are always very difficult to deal with. Teams worked really hard to deal with the incident.

“It was a big incident with a large emergency services presence and we have had to do a small number of evacuations of properties in the area.

“It is too early to say what has caused the fire.”

A statement released by the school said: “Our main priority was the safety of our staff, students and contractors working on site, and to ensure that our year-11 students were able to collect their GCSE results.

“All staff on the site were accounted for and no one was hurt in the fire. The Freeston Academy would like to thank all local residents and the community for their support during this time.

“Parents and students will be advised of return dates and further implications in due course.”