Night blaze guts hall

SHOCKED residents awoke to the sight of an abandoned Murwillumbah school building engulfed in flames early yesterday morning.

Tweed Heads and Murwillumbah fire brigades were called to the fire at the former Kangia Steiner School just before 3am to find one of the weatherboard buildings alight.

Fifteen firefighters battled for almost three hours to contain the blaze that broke out in a building in the corner of the school grounds on Prince Street and Nullum Lane.

Murwillumbah firefighter Phil Truesdale, who attended the blaze, said the brigade got the first emergency call at 3am.

"When we arrived the fire was quickly spreading to the front of the building," he said.

He said the old school building was run down, with several windows and doors already broken.

"It is our belief that this building will have to be demolished now," he said.

Firefighters said no one was inside the building at the time of the blaze and the school had been abandoned for a number of years.

Resident Peter Freeman, who lives opposite the former school, said he and his wife were woken by the fire's orange glow in their bedroom.

"I rushed outside to see the whole building up in flames," Mr Freeman said.

"You could feel how intense the heat was just standing out the front of my house.

"The flames shooting out of the roof were just huge.I got on the phone to the fire brigade and they said I was the tenth caller to report it."

Mr Freeman and other residents became concerned that another fire might break out in neighbouring houses when sparks began leaping from the top of the blaze.

"I had the garden hose ready for action," he said.

"For the size of the building it was an intense fire."

Tweed/Byron Police Inspector Darren Steel said an investigation into the fire had been launched and police were treating it as suspicious.

"We do not currently know the cause of the fire," Insp Steel said.

Police forensic officers have already surveyed the scene.

"We will continue our investigation into the blaze." Tweed Shire Council had previously expressed interest in buying the run-down former private school on several occasions, most recently in June.

In 2005, the Tweed council was reported as wanting to buy the property to house several community groups, including Volunteering Tweed and the Tweed Valley Respite Service.

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