A FIRE started deliberately in a school toilet this week was just minutes away from spreading to the rest of the building, a court has heard.
About 1,400 pupils had to be evacuated from Thurston Community College on Monday.
The blaze, magistrates heard, was only stopped from spreading to the rest of the school building thanks to the quick actions of one of its teachers, Chris Finbow, a former retained firefighter who staved off the flames with a fire extinguisher.
Firefighters from Bury St Edmunds and Ixworth were called to the incident at around 3.40pm.
On Wednesday, a 15-year-old boy, who cannot be identified for legal reasons admitted a charge of arson at Bury Youth Court.
Kevin Lowson, prosecuting, said the teenager was seen to start the fire in the toilet block.
The fire alarm then went off and the school was evacuated.
Mr Lowson said: “The fire was prevented from becoming more serious by a member of staff who was a fire officer. He took it upon himself to go into the toilet from which there was black billowing smoke coming out.
“He couldn’t see at all but he managed to get hold of a fire extinguisher and effectively stopped the fire from spreading.
“There’s indications that had he not done that it would have been a matter of minutes before the whole school building caught fire.”
Claire Lockwood, representing the youth, said: “It is a very serious offence and he accepts that.”
She said although the fire was started deliberately, there was no intention to cause harm.
She added that the youth was currently seeing a mental health team.
The court heard the teenager has no previous convictions but does have a reprimand for setting light to a sign.
Magistrates adjourned sentencing until next month and gave the youth bail with an electronic tag, curfew and a condition he report at weekends to Bury Police Station.
Headteacher at Thurston Helen Wilson praised the fire service, pupils and staff for their response to the incident.
“Particular mention must be made of my colleague, Chris Finbow, whose quick thinking and courageous actions halted the spread of the fire.
“I am extremely proud of our students who were a credit to themselves and to the college, remaining calm and co-operative in difficult circumstances,” she said.