Leicester Catherine Junior School pupils flee in blaze drama
Hundreds of pupils were forced to flee their classrooms after a fire broke out at a city junior school.
Catherine Junior School, in Belgrave, was evacuated shortly after 2pm yesterday, with youngsters leaving the building to see plumes of smoke spewing from the roof.
About 60 firefighters spent more than three hours battling the blaze at the Brandon Street school, while residents were urged to close their windows as thick smoke drifted over Belgrave for the second time in five days.
On Thursday, a shisha bar was destroyed in a blaze in Birstall Street 500 yards away.
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The cause of the latest fire is still under investigation but workmen had been repairing the roof when the fire started.
The damage was extensive and the school will be closed until further notice.
As soon as the fire was discovered, the 400 pupils were moved to Catherine Infant School over the road.
"We thought it was just a fire drill because we have them once a month,'' said 10-year-old Eduard Persic, of Belgrave.
"But we went out and saw it was a real fire – at first just smoke and then flames.''
His mum, Carmen, said: "I was so scared when I heard about it. I don't think any children were hurt, luckily."
Taru Ruparelia went to collect her son, Prit, 10, from the infant school, but they were then unable to return to their home in Brandon Street for several hours because of the smoke.
It was so thick, police officers keeping the street clear wore masks over their faces.
Prit said: "We were in lessons and the bell rang and we ran out. Some of the lightbulbs popped. There were a couple of children coughing badly and it was really smelly but I wasn't scared.''
Dharmendra Valand, of Belgrave, rushed to pick up his eight-year-old daughter, Poonam. "A friend rang me. I was scared, obviously, and worried about how going through something like this might affect the children. When I got there I saw a lot of smoke coming off the building. It looked bad. The school had been having some roof work done over the holidays and it had still been going on."
Manjula Sood, a local councillor and assistant city mayor, said: "There were men repairing the roof at the time and the cause is being investigated.
"It's a very scary thing and it could have been much worse.
"Fortunately, we had a safe rescue of all the children and the emergency services did a wonderful job."
An city council spokesman said: "School management acted quickly to evacuate all pupils and staff safely.
"The school will be closed until further notice.
"Parents should await further information about when they will be returning to the school, or whether alternative arrangements will be required."