Scotland’s First Minister has said the fire that ripped through Glasgow’s historic School of Art is “heartbreaking” as she visited the scene to meet firefighters tackling the blaze.
Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government stood ready to do all that it could to ensure that the world-renowned building has a future despite being gutted by fire for the second time in four years.
The blaze broke out at about 11.20pm on Friday, spreading to nearby buildings including the O2 ABC.
At its height 120 firefighters were involved in the operation to bring the fire under control, with around 50 still on site working on four fronts to fully extinguish it. Speaking as she visited the scene Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s heartbreaking.
“The fire as I think everybody could see from the pictures last night has been a devastating blaze, much, much worse than the one that took hold of the Mackintosh building four years ago so the damage is severe and extensive.
“It’s actually quite hard to find the words, given what happened four years ago, the fact that it was so close to being reopened after the restoration that this has happened.
“My heart goes out to everybody associated with the art school but and I think this is an important point there was no loss of life last night, nobody was injured, sometimes I think we take that a bit too much for granted and that’s down to the speed of response and skill of the firefighters that we’re not mourning loss of life today.”
Asked if the building had a future, she added: “I’ve spoken to the principal of the art school already and the Scottish Government stands ready to do anything we reasonably can to help ensure that the building has a future.
“It’s too early to say what that might entail or what that might look like. We don’t know yet what the structural condition of the building is. It’s simply too early to give definitive answers but I’m determined as we were after the fire four years ago that the Scottish Government will do everything it possibly can.”
SFRS area manager David Young said: “The fire has now largely been contained, but this remains a protracted incident and our efforts very much continue at this stage to extinguish the fire and ensure the community is protected.”
Mr Young said the damage inside the building was “quite considerable” but said it was too early to speculate on a cause of the fire. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh building was badly damaged in another blaze in 2014, with multimillion-pound restoration work under way in the building.
Art school graduates and staff have spoken of their sadness at seeing the building go up in flames a second time. Margaret Archbold, 48, a Glasgow artist who studied fine art at the school and graduated in 1994, said: “It shouldn’t have happened again.
“It was graduation day yesterday for this year’s students. I just feel really sorry for the fire brigade because they worked so hard to save it the last time.
“I came down to say goodbye actually, I thought there was nothing left, and it was quite an important time in my life.”
Bob McCaffrey, 42, a graduate, former tour guide and now visiting lecturer in product design at the art school, said: “It has been a big loss to the city.
“After four years ago everybody in Glasgow has been doing that thing they do of coming together, everyone’s been pulling together and it feels that just as this positivity was coming out of what was tragic four years ago, now it’s such a body blow.
“It wasn’t just impressive and spectacular, it was designed especially to inspire the students.
“That’s what pains me, it’s not just a beautiful building, which it is, but a lot of people got a lot of joy and inspiration from it.”
Stuart Robertson, director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, said the fire was “terrible” and a “massive body blow” and would be “sending shockwaves around the world”.
He said: “This is a world class building. With all the restoration work going on it’s just horrendous, I can’t really believe it.
“I’ve only seen glimpses, and what the firemen are saying, reading between the lines it looks bad. The last time they stopped it going into the east wing this time it looks as though it’s gone from the east wing all the way through.”
Alan Dunlop, professor of architecture at the art school, said he was “devastated”. He said: “It’s horrible. The building does look as though from the inside it’s been totally gutted. All that seems to remain is the stone walls on the outside.
“The deeply sad thing is that yesterday was graduation day. So the students will have felt elated and very happy, and then to wake up the next morning they will be very sad indeed.”