FIRE nearly totally destroyed a partly constructed new school in Cirencester on Saturday May 3 amidst a firefighters strike.

Shocked onlookers could only watch as dramatic plumes of thick black smoke from the blaze at the new Watermoor Primary site drifted into the air.

Despite the strike, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) crews arrived around 3pm and were able to put out the inferno, which engulfed a crate of plastic pallets, before it spread to other section of the construction.

Gloucestershire County Council confirmed that the incident has had no impact on the construction of the new Watermoor School, which is near Kingshill School, and the incident is not being treated as suspicious.

Jo Pearce, headteacher of Watermoor Primary School, which is moving to the new site in September, said she was relieved that the new school site was not destroyed by the blaze.

“We are just really glad that nobody was hurt and the building is still intact,” she said.

“To us it is most important that everybody was safe and nobody was hurt. We are still very much looking forward to moving in next September.”

The site for Watermoor Primary is close to the new Beeches housing development and is expected to eventually cater for 210 pupils.

The blaze occurred just after the firefighters strike started at 2pm and ran until 2pm on Sunday, May 4.

One eye witness feared that the strike could have caused a delay in fire crews attending the incident because it took at least 20minutes after he had first seen the smoke before fire engines arrived.

He said: “What would have happened if there was a serious house fire.”

Stuart Tarr, chairman of the Beeches Community Group, said: “If there was a delay explained by the strike given that there was a danger to life and limb and that was the complaint then that was totally unacceptable.”

Gloucestershire Fire Service maintains that it was prepared for the strike and attended the blaze in under 20 minutes.

Chief Fire Officer Stewart Edgar said: “Although there was a fair amount of smoke, the incident was classified as posing no risk to life and, thanks to our robust contingency plans and the professionalism of firefighters, two crews attended the fire within 17 minutes of mobilising and very quickly had the incident under control. ”

According to government figures in 2012-13, the average response time to fires in dwellings was 7.4 minutes and 7.9 minutes to fires in other buildings.

“I’m extremely proud of how well prepared the county’s service was. This incident underlines just how important it is that we continue to have thorough contingency plans in place during periods of industrial action.”