Leyland school fire: Five boys held on suspicion of arson

Aerial footage of a fire at St Mary's Catholic Technology College, Leyland

Five boys have been arrested after fire destroyed a school in Lancashire.

At the height of the blaze, 125 firefighters were involved in tackling the flames at St Mary's Catholic Technology College in Leyland.

Fire chiefs said foam roofing materials in a 1950s part of the complex with no sprinkler system contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.

Lancashire Police said the boys, aged 11 to 15, had been released on bail. The school was due to open on Tuesday.

The college website said the fire had caused "devastating damage" to the buildings - two out of three buildings were destroyed.

'Flames everywhere'

The alarm was raised at about 16:00 BST on Sunday.

Head teacher Kathy McNicholas told the BBC they are now in the process of "trying to make the site safe and secure."

She said: "We are trying to identify which part of the building can be put back into use."

They will review the situation in 24 hours, she added, following the clean-up operation.

Philip Tattersall, who lives across the road from the school, said: "It started off as a bit of smoke and after an hour and a half it had spread to 100ft - there were flames everywhere. It was a mess."

At the scene

A huge charred skeleton is how the building appears this morning.

Fire crews are damping down as anxious pupils and parents gather to see what is left of a building that has been the centre of the community for decades.

The air was thick with smoke and on Royal Avenue residents said a small fire had quickly taken hold.

The school was preparing to reopen for term within days and pupils told me of fears their coursework would have been lost.

Jane Woodhouse, who has a daughter due to start school this week and another due to sit her GCSEs this academic year, said: "My eldest daughter is in her final year and is obviously very worried about what has happened to her coursework.

"I just hope the exam board takes this into consideration."

Lawrence Clift, another parent, said more than £100,000 had been spent on new equipment, carpets and decorating in the summer break.

"We were told you won't recognise it when you turn up for school - here we are now and we don't recognise it," he said.

His son Jordan said pupils were worried they would be split up from their friends.

Lancashire Fire Service said: "The school, which was built in 1957, had no sprinklers and the roof was constructed using sandwich foam boards which helped spread the fire in an area that was difficult for the firefighters to reach.

"Additionally, a strong wind helped spread the fire across the school towards the sports hall."

A statement on the college website said: "A fire at the school has caused devastating damage."

'Emergency meeting'

Fr Jonathan Cotton, priest at St Mary's RC Parish Church, said: "It is a very sad situation. We have a school that has burnt down and people are very upset.

"A lot of steps are going to have to be made in order to rebuild the school, a lot of good things have been destroyed."

Lancashire county councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: "I know that the whole school community is deeply shocked and saddened by this incident and that parents and pupils will be feeling worried and anxious about what happens next.

He said the school site, which houses 730 pupils, is still "under the control of the fire service, so we do not yet have the access we need to make a full assessment of the damage".

Mr Tomlinson added: "This is a very difficult situation and we would ask everyone to please bear with us."

He said school and council staff are working to get it back up and running as soon as possible.

Education officials have held an emergency meeting to discuss where to accommodate pupils for the new term.

Among the items destroyed in the fire was GCSE coursework.

Police said the five boys had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

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