A huge blaze destroyed the roof of a derelict school in West Bromwich.
The fire, which is being treated as suspected arson, caught hold at the former West Bromwich Grammar School building, on the town’s High Street.
At its height, 55 firefighters tackled the blaze last night. Flames could be seen shooting out of the top of the building, and plumes of black smoke filled the air.
The roof of the building was completely destroyed in the fire, which happened just after 7pm.
A portion of the inside of the old school building was also damaged.
The High Street in the town was closed from its junction with Dartmouth Street to all traffic and pedestrians, with West Midlands Fire Service advising motorists to avoid the area. There were no reports of any injuries. The fire service said the suspected cause was arson.
Investigations were continuing to take place at the site today.
Video: Mike Claridge
The fire started in the ground floor and first floor of an auditorium.
All of the roof was affected and around 30 per cent of the ground and first floors damaged.
The fire service had a presence throughout the night, while a thorough search was undertaken to check for anyone sleeping rough in the empty building.
Group commander David Hilton said last night: “Crews are continuing to work hard in limiting the damage caused by the fire and are being supported by other agencies in this incident.
“It has involved approximately 55 firefighters, eight appliances and two aerial appliances.”
Firefighters worked throughout the night to ensure the blaze was out.
Crews remained at the scene until 5.20am today and West Bromwich crews returned at 7.30am to check for any hotspots and to secure the site.
Dozens of residents gathered behind the cordon the police had put in place, to watch the drama unfold. One of them was Creed Way resident Carla Crentsil, who said: “We saw lots of vehicles coming along our road and thought it was not normal for our street to be so busy.
“Lots of people were out talking and taking photos, and they told us the old school was on fire.
“We came to have a look and there was just a lot of smoke and the building was all ablaze.”
The school, which was opened in 1904 and closed in 1970, taught thousands of pupils, including famous actress Madeleine Carroll. She was best known for being the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde heroines in the film The 39 Steps. A blue plaque remains on the school commemorating her time there and her work as an actress and humanitarian.
Many people took to social networking sites to share pictures of the blaze and express their sadness at what had happened.
Hateley Heath councillor Paul Sandars tweeted: “So sorry to see my late mother’s old school, the former West Bromwich Grammar, on fire tonight.”