Head feared school would "go up in smoke"

Fire at The Weald School
Fire at The Weald School

A headteacher has described the moment he feared he would have to watch his school go up in smoke.

Firefighters were called to The Weald, in Billingshurst, at 7pm on Tuesday (March 28) after a fire broke out in the ceramics classroom.

Headteacher Peter Woodman

Headteacher Peter Woodman

Headteacher Peter Woodman was in the building with a member of his premises team when the alarm sounded and was quickly investigated.

Mr Woodman said it took him around 30 seconds to reach the classroom and added: “I opened the door and smoke billowed out and I thought ‘oh my’.”

After calling the fire brigade, he then faced a “dreadful” wait before the emergency services arrived.

He said: “They got here quickly but I was wondering am I going to watch the fire spread from one room to the whole building. Is this going to be another Selsey?”

Luke Gausden, Isabella Spicer and Kiran Sandhu, all 12, were evacuated from neighbouring Billingshurst Leisure Centre as a precuation

Luke Gausden, Isabella Spicer and Kiran Sandhu, all 12, were evacuated from neighbouring Billingshurst Leisure Centre as a precuation

Mr Woodman considered tackling the fire himself but a lungful of smoke gave him a swift lesson in the dangers facing him. He said: “You have that fleeting thought can I put this out with a fire extinguisher, but I couldn’t find it. I knew it was right by the door but I couldn’t see it because of the smoke.”

Crews from six engines dealt with the blaze and investigations into the cause of the fire are still ongoing.

With smoke pouring from a window, some 30 people from neighbouring Billingshurst Leisure Centre, were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Luke Gausden, Isabella Spicer and Kiran Sandhu, all 12, of the Altantis Swimming Club, were given foil blankets while they waited outside.

Firefighters at The Weald

Firefighters at The Weald

Luke’s mum Julie Gausden said: “We couldn’t hear [the fire alarm] in the pool so the first we knew about it was when they told us to get out. It was only when we got outside that we could hear it.”

She said of the children: “It’s just a great adventure as far as they’re concerned.”

While some of the students may have hoped the fire would mean a day off, the school was able to open as usual on Wednesday (March 29). Mr Woodman said: “I think there were some disappointed students this morning – but I told them it takes more than a fire to stop The Weald.”

Students were due to take a ceramics exam on Monday and with their folders luckily stored on the other side of the room from the fire, it is hoped their work survived.

The damaged room was one of the few in the building made entirely of brick. While doubtful it would be back in use by the end of the school year,

Mr Woodman said: “If I had to pick a room to go up in smoke it would have been that one.

“It could have been so much worse. We saw what happened to Millais and Selsey.”

He added: "There was a bit of me that just thought am I going to be watching our school go up in smoke? That would have been very distressing but there was nothing I could do. Luck was on our side."

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