A 15-YEAR-OLD boy has been charged with arson with intent following a major fire at a secondary school.

Hundreds of children were evacuated from The Clere School, in Earlstone Common, Burghclere, when the fire broke out last Wednesday.

Pupils watched as firefighters from Overton, Basingstoke and Eastleigh extinguished the flames after being alerted to the incident at about 1.50pm.

Crews arrived to find the fire, which was started in an outside storage area, had spread to the school’s sports hall and had developed in the roof space, which is covered in solar panels.

Firefighters had to use compressed air foam on the building because the panels hold an electrical charge.

Fears that the roof may collapse led to a Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council structural engineer carrying out a survey, briefly halting the firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze.

The crews were able to limit the damage to the roof to 20 per cent.

Dave Graham, station manager at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, who was in charge of the incident, said: “Crews worked hard under challenging conditions, hindered by the solar panels, to keep the fire from entering the sports hall and stop what could have been 100 per cent damage to the property.

“Basingstoke council acted quickly to send a structural engineer to the scene, enabling us to carry out an aggressive attack on the fire.”

The blaze was fully extinguished by 5.19pm, and the school opened as normal the following day.

Amanda Keable, community assistant at The Clere, praised the firefighters and children.

She said she initially thought the smoke was coming from a bonfire across the school field, before realising it was a fully-developed fire in the school grounds.

She said: “The children were fantastic in evacuating the building, and the crews were brilliant. They kept us updated and worked hard in hot conditions.

“The senior leadership team of the school did a brilliant job in keeping the children calm and safe. You can practise a number of drills but when you’re faced with a real fire, children can act differently so it was great that everything came together."

Detectives investigating the fire subsequently arrested four teenagers, and on Friday it was revealed that they have charged a 15-year-old, from Newbury, with arson with intent. He is due to appear at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court.

Two 14-year-old boys, one from Bishops Green and another from Kingsclere, have been released on bail until December 24, pending further enquiries.

A 15-year-old girl, from the Bishops Green area, also arrested in connection with the incident, was released with no future action.