School arson probe

By Joanna Wardill A TEENAGER has been arrested after a massive blaze ripped through Airedale High School on Tuesday night.

About 100 firefighters from all over the district tackled the inferno which engulfed the school's main hall, social rooms, special needs rooms, offices, a drama studio and a year 11 study area.

People using the nearby sports hall were evacuated when the fire broke out just before 8pm.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation but a 15-year-old boy was arrested in the early hours of Wednesday morning on suspicion of arson.

The school was closed on Wednesday to all but year seven pupils, but deputy headteacher David Maxwell said years nine and 11 will be allowed back from Friday.

Speaking yesterday morning, Mr Maxwell said: "We don't know what the damage is yet, but certain parts have been completely gutted.

"I was met with complete devastation when I arrived at about 6am. The drama building has been destroyed, which is terrible because that's a really popular part of the school. We are a specialist performing arts school and community groups, as well as pupils, use the theatre. It was only refurbished in 2003, with new sound systems and computer equipment.

"It's devastating but the fire service did an magnificent job in stopping the blaze from spreading."

Gertie Madden, 70, of Crewe Road, lives two doors down from the school. She said: "It was the biggest fire I have ever seen, the flames were right up into the sky. I watched from my back garden but it was quite worrying because it was so close to my house. There was thick black smoke which, luckily, the wind blew away from me. It's terrible and such a shame."

This is the second time the school has been ravaged by fire – arsonists torched the lower school in June 2003 and caused about 1m damage when the kitchens, dining hall and a classroom block were destroyed.

Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper officially opened the school's refurbished buildings just four months ago.

Ms Cooper said: "This is really shocking and devastating for the staff and pupils who had worked so hard to pull things together after the fire several years ago. I know everyone in the school will pull together again now."

Police appealed for any witnesses to contact them on 01977 601059.

Click here to view pictures taken at the scene