By Amanda Keenan
FIREFIGHTERS had a lucky escape when mindless thugs slashed their water hoses as they battled a major fire which had engulfed an old high school building.
Vandals cut through several lengths of the heavy duty piping causing a huge drop in pressure which could have proved fatal for any crew caught inside the burning building at the time.
Sources revealed “only good fortune” meant teams of fire-fighters were able to handle the inferno uninjured.
Their gear was targeted as they tried to extinguish the huge blaze at the old Craigroysten Community High School in Edinburgh.
Such was the ferocity of the blaze crews had to lay lengths of hose stretching hundreds of yards to the scene on Pennywell Road.
They had rushed to the blaze at 8:30pm on Wednesday after reports from worried residents nearby.
At the height of the blaze 50 fire-fighters and 10 engines were involved with four engines still on site tackling the blaze on Thursday morning.
While all their attention was trained on the fire, thugs are said to have hacked through the hoses with slices at various parts.
The subsequent loss of pressure while crews in BA suits were tackling the blaze could have proved deadly had they been trapped inside at the time pressure dropped because of the punctures.
One source said: “It was only luck that nothing worse happened.”
It meant crews – who stayed at the scene all night – were forced to dump rolls of pipe which knocked an appliance out of commission from attending any other blazes in the city that night.
Group Incident Manager for Lothian and Borders Fire David Mackie said: “It was a large blaze in a number of buildings including single-storey and three-storey buildings.
“Slashing the fire hose was a very dangerous and a stupid act of vandalism which could have resulted in disastrous consequences.
“One of our crew also had his car tyre slashed while he was fighting the blaze.
“The fire is still smouldering now and we have called in a demolition company who will start to take the building down piece by piece.
“Eight lengths of hoses were slashed which we estimate could cost around £2000 to replace.
“This slowed down the process of tackling the fire. The consequences could have been much more serious.
“This kind of act is unacceptable.”
Local Liberal Democrat MSP Margaret Smith has hit out at the vandals describing it as “absolutely outrageous”.
She added: “Just as it is unacceptable to attack emergency service personnel who are risking their lives to save others, deliberately vandalising life-saving equipment is not on.
“Boredom is not an excuse for this type of behaviour. It is right that an investigation is launched, but this should include a wider examination of why a minority of young people think it’s ok to attack emergency service personnel or their equipment.
“We need to drum it home that this reckless behaviour can cost lives and will not be tolerated.
“The Scottish Parliament has passed laws making it an aggravated offence to attack emergency personnel.
“We need to work out why the message isn’t getting through to this minority of young people, despite widespread revulsion about this kind of behaviour.”
The disused building is currently owned by an independent contract company called Reigart.
Edinburgh City Council now plans to asses the damage and consult with the company.
A spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “We are working with the contractor to investigate the best way forward in making the site secure and safe.”
Police are now trying to trace the vandals and the fireraisers, and say they are particularly interested in speaking to three youths seen near the school shortly before the blaze broke out.
Inspector Sandy Boyd said: “The fire and the subsequent damage to the hoses are quite simply mindless acts of vandalism, which required significant resources from the fire service and the police.
“We are keen to speak to anyone who has any information that can help us track down those responsible, and I would urge people to get in touch with us if they saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area of old Craigroyston High School before the fire broke out.
“In particular, we want to trace the three male youths who were seen close to the scene, as they may have information that can help us.
“Similarly, anyone who witnessed the subsequent vandalism to the fire hoses, or who has any information that can assist our inquiries, should come forward as a matter of urgency.”
The three teens seen near the school building prior to the fire are all thought to be around 15 or 16-years-old and around 5ft 7ins tall.
One was wearing a dark hooded top and dark bottoms, while another was wearing a red and white nylon hooded top and jogging bottoms.
The third member of the group had a distinctive spiked dark hairstyle, which was blond and shaved with tramlines at the sides.
* A 14-year-old boy was detected in connection with the incident.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Lothian and Borders Police on 0131 311 3131 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.