Nostalgia: Fire at Kinghorn Primary

Firemen on the roof of Kinghorn PS after the fire in July 1980. In the foreground are Headmaster William Speed (left) with janitor Thomas Senior (right).
Firemen on the roof of Kinghorn PS after the fire in July 1980. In the foreground are Headmaster William Speed (left) with janitor Thomas Senior (right).

Thirty eight years ago one of Fife’s oldest schools suffered severe damage after a fire.

A blaze swept through Kinghorn Primary School in July 1980 causing several thousands pounds’ worth of devastation.

Firemen survey the damage to the school

Firemen survey the damage to the school

The alarm was raised by the janitor, Thomas Senior, who opened the school at about 7.50am on Monday, July 7.

He was working in another part of the school when the fire bell rang and he ran out.

“It was all black smoke and I couldn’t get back in,” he said.

On receiving a call to the blaze, Fife Fire Brigade sent six appliances to the scene – two units and a hydraulic platform from Kirkcaldy, a unit from Thornton, a unit from Burntisland and an emergency tender from Glenrothes.

One of the damaged classrooms.

One of the damaged classrooms.

Firemaster Fraser Ballantyne also attended.

As firemen fought to bring the blaze under control, school cleaner Evelyn Burrell told the Fife Free Press she considered herself lucky to be alive.

Thirty-five-year-old Mrs Burrell, of Burt Avenue, had slept in that morning and when she arrived at the school a few minutes after 8am, the main building – erected in 1829 – was ablaze.

Mrs Burrell, who usually started work at 8am, said: “I slept in and when I came into the playground I saw smoke belching out of the windows.

“I am glad I slept in. I could have been in there.”

The fire bell had also been heard by the other school cleaner, 47-year-old Sarah Wells of Queens Crescent, who suffered a moment of panic as she was unaware that Mrs Burrell had not yet arrived for work.

”I was in the top section of the building,” she said, “when I heard the bell, and I ran out.”

She added: “I started screaming – I panicked because I thought Evelyn was inside, and then I saw her in the playground.”

After working to tackle the blaze, in just under an hour later the Fife Fire Brigade had brought it under control.

It had been confined to the main building, comprising the headmaster’s room, the staff room and four classrooms.

The headmaster’s office was badly damaged and, sadly, the staircase going up to the bell tower – part of the original building from the early 1800s – was completely destroyed.

Much of the roof in that section of the school was also destroyed, with the rest extensively damaged.

There was also smoke damage to the staff room and all the classrooms.

William Speed, the school’s headmaster for 13 years, said: “Everybody must be saddened by the fire which has destroyed connections with the past.”

A Fire Brigade spokesman said the fire broke out near the centre of the building, below the clock tower.

The roof had borne the brunt of the outbreak.

Much of the roof that had been either destroyed or extensively damaged was located near the headmaster’s room.

There was severe damage to the ground floor and first floor in the centre of the building.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, but a police spokesman said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Fortunately no-one was hurt and in common with other Fife schools, no pupils at Kinghorn were on the grounds as it was the summer holidays.

Ian Flett, director of education for Fife, said the school, which taught 280 children, would re-open after the holidays.

“There are four classrooms affected,” he said.

“I think they will be habitable by that time.”