Fire partly destroys academy school with smoke seen for miles
Up to 100 firefighters tackled a major blaze which partly destroyed an academy school in a seaside town a fortnight before the end of the summer holidays.
Stacks of dense, acrid smoke were seen from miles around as 14 fire engines were sent to The Academy in Selsey, near Chichester, West Sussex.
The fire is believed to have started in the roof space just before 8am on Sunday before quickly spreading through large parts of the school amid winds of around 25mph.
More than 60 calls were received to West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.
In an effort to protect neighbouring homes, including some thatched properties, a small number were evacuated.
Other locals were told by emergency teams to keep their windows shut and stay indoors as black smoke poured from the building.
An investigation has been launched into the cause of the blaze.
A West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: "We rule nothing out but at this stage there is nothing to suggest it was arson."
Some parts of the school escaped unscathed but a massive effort will now be made as schoolchildren were due to return to classes on September 6.
The school said it would be making arrangements for students due to collect their GCSE results on Thursday.
No injuries were reported among members of the public and firefighters but a police officer directing traffic at the scene was reportedly hit at low speed by a car.
Crews were sent from neighbouring Hampshire to help contain the fire's spread, while firefighters in Surrey and East Sussex provided cover for their West Sussex colleagues.
Up to five appliances remained at the scene by 3pm.
The fire spokesman said: "They are damping down and turning over, and they will likely be there for the rest of the day and keep a watching brief overnight."
He described the response of the local community as "fantastic" as donations of tea, coffee and food poured in to keep fire crews fuelled.
"There was great community spirit," he said.
"Clearly, there is a lot of damage to the school but every effort will be given to help get it back up and running."
The Academy is a mixed school for pupils aged 11 to 16. It was opened by the Duke of Norfolk in September 1963 as Manhood Secondary Modern School.
Chairman of governors Bill Emerson said there were contingency plans in place for students to pick up their GCSE results.
"There is a possibility we might be able to save a small section of the school and the emergency services are doing their best to do that," he told the BBC.
"But it is amazing how quickly the fire has spread. It's shocking. The structures are effectively a skeleton now compared to what they were and we have still got fire raging in sections."
The Kemnal Academies Trust, which runs The Academy, said its priority was to allow pupils to return to school as soon as possible.
A trust spokesman said: "The fire services are continuing to control the fire and secure the area. The cause of the fire is unknown and we are therefore unable to provide further comment on this.
"The safety and welfare of our pupils, staff and communities is of utmost importance and we are working closely with the emergency services to ensure this happens.
"Our priority is to ensure that the children of the Selsey Academy can return to school as soon as possible."
West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith said: "Our thanks as always go West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service crews for dealing with the blaze at Selsey Academy so promptly and efficiently.
"They remain on site at the moment.
"This was an extensive fire and we know that the level of damage has yet to be properly assessed, although we anticipate it will be severe.
"We will be working with the headteacher at Selsey Academy and the Kemnal Academies Trust to support pupils, parents and staff.
"Our top priority will be ensuring that pupils and parents know where they will be based from the start of the new school term in September."