Remembering when Grange Primary School went up in flames

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TOMORROW is the fifteenth anniversary of a fire which destroyed much of a Hartlepool primary.ANDREW LEVETT looks back at the story of a school which rose from the ashes.

AROUND 80 firefighters battled for hours to tame a blaze which ripped through Grange Primary School.

Early estimates put the damage at £500,000, with most of the junior section having to be pulled down.

Thick black smoke, visible from as far away as the A19, billowed towards the town centre and police closed roads and warned residents to shut windows and doors.

Tackling the blaze was extremely hazardous for firefighters, said Divisional Officer Mazen Khuri.

He told the Mail: “There was a very strong wind blowing the fire into other parts of the building.

“There were repeated flash overs and back drafts. But we were able to fight it quite effectively.

“That’s a combination of training, awareness and our facilities.

“There was not a single injury at all. Not even a scratched finger.”

One firefighter told the Mail: “It’s scary when you are in an eight-foot room and have flash overs coming towards you.

“It was like a maze, there were so many corridors and rooms and we had to drag the hoses with us.”

Headteacher Louise Conway, who had celebrated a glowing Ofsted report just a week previously, told the Mail: “When I first got the call I couldn’t imagine having to rebuild the school.

“But we will all pull together. We have got a very hardworking staff here and some very supportive parents.

“It’s just like the wartime spirit.”

Six-year-old pupil Leah Readman raised the alarm.

She said: “I saw the smoke so I went to tell the shopkeeper.”

The first two fire crews arrived at the school just after midday on July 18, a Saturday, then appliances from Thornaby, Stockton, Billingham and Yarm came to lend reinforcements.

It was estimated that up to 80 firefighters and 14 appliances were in action at the height of the blaze.

Though there were early rumours of arson being the cause, experts soon put the cause down to be electrical problems.

The school was, as promised, rebuilt, with temporary classrooms to house pupils while the work was carried out.

What are your memories of the fire and its aftermath?

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.