by John Walton

MORE than 100 children were left without a school until after Easter after firebugs burned Pinewood Infants' School to the ground.

The blaze on Thursday night, which could be seen for miles around, completely destroyed the single storey building nestling in the middle of the Pinewood Park estate in Cove.

The blaze was started in a rubbish bin at the back of the school and flames spread rapidly across the roof. Hampshire Police said two local boys aged ten and 11 had been arrested and bailed pending further enquiries.

It is estimated that rebuilding the school will cost upwards of £2 million. Hampshire County Council is planning to house the children in temporary buildings on the site, to restart the summer term, while it is constructed. It is expected that it will be one of the first schools in the county to incorporate a sprinkler system and similar systems are to be added to other schools as soon as possible. Two existing classrooms are usable and a large temporary building will be the new hall.

The school caters for a small number of children with language difficulties as well as 85 four to seven-year-olds from the estate and round about. Urgent talks took place on Friday afternoon between the headmistress, Mrs Sue Harris, governors and Hampshire officials about how to cope with the crisis.

The aim was to keep the children together as a unit rather than spread them around other schools in the area.

At the height of the inferno 11 fire pumps were in attendance with firemen from as far away as Eastleigh, Basingstoke and Alton joining colleagues from Rushmoor, Yateley and Hartley Wintney.

Residents were angry as they watched the 25- year -old building blazing.

"This is part of a long running spate of vandalism," said one man. "They seem determined to destroy the school and despite promises from councillors and the police nothing has been done to address the problem."

This week local man Simon Wright of Shepherds Walk called on the three Fernhill Rushmoor councillors, Alan Ferrier, Ken Muschamp and John Marsh, to resign after he claimed that they had not even acknowledged his letter to them in December complaining about mindless behaviour and vandalism at the school by local louts.

Mr Wright told the councillors: "No representation is better than the service you and your colleagues provide at present." Mr Peter Brown, who lives on the nearby mobile home site, said people in the homes had been terrified that the fire would spread and engulf them. He praised the courage of firemen in tackling the blaze. The weekend before the fire vandals damaged a slide in the school playground by pulling it from its frame. Ring police on 0845 45 45 if you have any information about the fire.