A headteacher has said he was “expecting the worst” when he got calls to say there was a fire at his school.
Impington Village College principal Ryan Kelsall raced to the scene to discover a blaze in a skip within the roofers’ compound at the back of the site, which police say was the work of arsonists.
Fire crews were called at 10.24pm on Sunday, after smoke and huge flames were seen by neighbours, who also reported the sound of explosions as gas canisters blew up.
But following a swift response from firefighters, damage to the school was limited and those students still attending classes were able to work as normal on Monday.
The road was closed, residents were urged to close their windows and no-one was injured in the incident.
Mr Kelsall told the Cambridge Independent: “When I got numerous calls from the local community and rushed up here on Sunday night, I was expecting the worst. However, the fire had started in the roofers’ compound that we had at the back of the site and there was very limited damage to the actual school buildings.
“It was down to the fantastic response from the fire service, supported by the site team at Impington who were able to contain the fire really quickly.
“The police were fantastic. They made sure the site was safe and secure and supported us throughout the night and on Monday to make sure that the site was monitored so there no follow-up issues.
“Also, I have to say Cambridge Flat Roofing, the contractors, clearly had followed all the health and safety guidance as required, which meant that although there was a gas canister that exploded, it was contained and locked away.
“The compound was sufficiently far away from the buildings that the fire didn’t spread, so because people did their jobs really well, the damage was limited.”
Neighbouring resident Luke Wilderspin was shocked when the canisters exploded.
He said he could “literally hear the tanks whistling with pressure” and witnessed a “mushroom cloud as they blew”.
Crews from Cambridge, Cottenham, Sawston, Papworth, Huntingdon and St Ives got the fire under control by 1.10am. After dampening the area, they left at 2am, returning later to reinspect the site before a full investigation revealed that arsonists had struck.
Sgt Emma Hilson, from the South Cambridgeshire neighbourhood team, said: “It is believed this was a deliberate act and we’re keen to hear from anyone who may have witnessed any suspicious activity or unfamiliar people in the area around the time of the incident.
“Thankfully the damage to the school was fairly minimal and staff and teachers caring for key workers’ children have been able to resume as normal.”
Mr Kelsall said: “I have to thank the site team, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, the police and Cambridge Flat Roofing, all of whom played a part in making sure we avoided what could have been a really disastrous situation and that meant all the young people who are the sons and daughters of key workers, or have high levels of need or require additional support, were able to come into school on Monday as normal and it was business as usual.
“We were able to carry on in the new normal that we find ourselves in, and that was down to the great response and work of those people.”
Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101 quoting reference 35/29200/20 or report online www.cambs.police.uk/report.
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