A DEMOLITION team was today trying to make the ruined shell of York High School safe, so that fire experts could start investigating the cause of a devastating blaze.

Seventy firefighters from across North Yorkshire tackled the fire which broke out early yesterday in the first floor of the central block of the former Lowfield School, in Acomb.

Danny Westmoreland, group manager with North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, said two appliances from Acomb were initially sent to tackle the fire at 5.22am, but eventually two aerial ladder platforms and 12 fire engines – a third of the brigade’s entire fleet – eventually arrived from stations including Acomb, York, Huntington, Tadcaster, Easingwold, Boroughbridge, Harrogate, Selby and Malton.

He hailed firefighters who managed to prevent flames spreading to adjacent teaching blocks. “They were extremely successful in controlling the fire.”

He said while the blaze had been dampened down by yesterday afternoon, with security maintained on the site overnight last night, the poor state of some of the roof structure meant it was unsafe for the fire investigation team to enter the building.

“Demolition contractors will be coming on to the site to make it safe for the investigation team to come in at 10am on Monday.”

He said that until that probe had been completed, the service could not comment on the possible cause of the blaze.

Asked about rumours locally that a malfunctioning kiln might have been to blame, he said this was pure speculation at this stage.

David Ellis, the school’s head teacher, said the fire had damaged about a third of the school, which was being used as a temporary home for York High until new premises on the former Oaklands School site became ready for occupation in January.

He said art, textiles, food, science labs and IT areas had been destroyed, along with administration offices damaged by water.

Pupils fear that irreplaceable coursework has been destroyed in the fire, said teacher Stella Spence, who revealed she had burst into tears when she saw what had happened.

“Some children are very upset,” she said. “One said to me: ‘I’ve done my best ever coursework, what can I do, Miss?’. Their coursework is irreplaceable.”

Fellow teacher Sarah Brown, who has only been at York High for the past few weeks, was visibly stunned when she arrived at school to be given the news by Mrs Spence. “I feel for the community,” she said.

Mr Ellis said he understood students’ concerns about coursework but he could categorically guarantee that no one would lose out through its loss. “The examination boards are very understanding in these situations.”