POLICE say an arsonist started a fire at a disused building at Kingsley School in Bideford last weekend.
Officers investigating the large blaze at Kiltrasna House say the derelict former boarding house was regularly broken into by young people and there was also evidence of squatters.
Fire crews from Barnstaple, Combe Martin, Ilfracombe Bideford, Hatherleigh, South Molton, Torrington, Appledore and Woolacombe were called to the address on Slade near Northdown Road at 8.38pm last Saturday.
On arrival they found the building well alight.
Video: This film of the fire was posted on YouTube:
Western Power were called to isolate the electricity to the building and fire crews disconnected the gas supply. Police also attended.
Station manager Barry Webb said the hydraulic platform was the crew’s main asset.
He said: “It was a very severe fire. The floors had collapsed and we had concerns about getting people in there so we had to fight it from outside.
“Our biggest problem was a poor water supply so we focussed on feeding water to the hydraulic platform, that's why so many engine attended.
“Eventually we did manage to get two fire fighters with breathing apparatus inside the building to stop it spreading.
“As a result we did manage to save one wing of the building.
“Overall the property was around 50 per cent destroyed with a further 20 per cent severely damaged by smoke and heat.
“Crews did a great job to contain the fire.”
Lucy Goaman, marketing manager at Kingsley School, was at the scene as fire fighters tackled the blaze.
She said: “I received a call from the head of the Kingsley Friends parents group saying there were lots of fire engines on their way up to the school.
“Fortunately it's out of term time so the number of people on site is limited.
“The fire fighters dealt with it all very calmly, they did a great job.”
It is believed the building was previously used as a training building for the fire service.
Detective Constable Sally Strutt, who is investigating the blaze, said Kiltrasna House was a favourite place for youngsters to visit and break in.
She said: “There are also signs of previous squatters.
“The fire was started in an old lecture theatre which comprised a lot of wood structures, causing the fire to spread through the roof and into a large part of the building.
“This has caused extensive damage and the building is now unstable and very dangerous.
“We would advise people to stay away from the site.”
Last March the Methodist Independent School Trust, which owns Kingsley School, applied for planning permission to turn Kiltrasna House into five dwellings.
The planning application, which is still pending and can be seen on Torridge District Council’s website, states that the sale of Kiltrasna House would have paid for new sports pitches at the school.
Headteacher Andy Waters said the application would probably have to be amended after the fire.
He said: “Having seen the damage to the building I don’t think it is going to be salvageable.
“It’s frustrating for any school to have property damaged but we are fortunate there were no injuries and no loss of life.
“Kiltrasna House was not occupied at the time of the fire and it has not been used for at least eight years.”
Anyone with any information about the fire is asked to call the police on 101 quoting police reference CD/13/622 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 55111.