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Neighbours attempted to stop ‘fierce’ blaze following arson attack at Exning Primary School

PUBLISHED: 11:26 04 September 2015 | UPDATED: 16:05 04 September 2015

The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School. Headteacher, James Clark.

The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School. Headteacher, James Clark.

Archant

Two members of the public tried to stop the blaze at Exning Primary School before the fire brigade arrived.

The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School. The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School.

Keith Miller, landlord of the White Swan pub, which is near the school, and neighbour Rob Ellis were the first on the scene of the fire which broke out in the early hours of this morning.

The youngest pupils had been due to start their first day of school today, and for others they were returning after the summer break, but the primary was forced to remain shut.

The fire - which is being treated as arson - is believed to have begun in a shed, which has been completely destroyed, spreading to the main school building, which dates back to the 19th century. There, a year one classroom has been severely damaged.

An investigation by police and fire service officers has now determined that the fire was started deliberately.

The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School. The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School.

Mr Miller and Mr Ellis acted on instinct, filling watering cans with water from an outside tap and using sand from a bin intended for bad weather.

Mr Miller said: “I used to be a policeman. Your instinct is just to get stuck in and just do it. I feel really sorry for the ones [children] who were due to be starting today.”

He added: “The community are up in arms about it. It’s a village and a lot of adults went to this school when they were kids. It’s horrible.”

Mr Ellis, who has lived next to the school for 20 years, described how alarms alerted him to the blaze.

He said: “We got the flames down quite a lot and then we could see there were flames inside the classroom.”

He said they were trying to stop the blaze spreading, but the fire was “really fierce”.

Seven fire crews were dispatched to the fire after several calls from the public at around 12.50am.

Firefighters from Newmarket who were first on scene immediately requested back-up from other crews, including an aerial ladder platform.

Wearing breathing apparatus, firefighters were able to use two jets to break up the fire and had the blaze under control by 2.47am.

One crew remained at 4.10am damping down the scene in Oxford Street.

A message on the school’s web site this morning said: “We regret to inform you that due to a fire at Exning Primary School in the early hours of this morning we will not be opening today. We will update you when we have further information.”

Police officers were sent to the scene to assist with road closures.

Anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity in the area, or who has any information about this incident, is asked to contact Bury St Edmunds CID on 101 quoting reference NE/15/1501.

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