FIRE chiefs are today probing the charred remains of a disused church, gutted in a ferocious blaze, to detemine whether it had been started deliberately.
Crews are still dampening down embers 15 hours after a major blaze ripped through the three-storey building at Taylor Place, Abbeyhill, scrambling 40 firefighters to the scene.
No-one was hurt, but smoke could be seen billowing from the empty old church – most recently used as a warehouse and meat factory – for miles around the Capital. Crews remained on the scene late last night after facing a huge battle to get the blaze under control.
As the probe began, residents told how they had recently reported young teenagers hanging around the building to police.
Nicky Hamilton Smith, 41, who lives in Taylor Place, said: “The kids were playing outside and noticed the smoke. You often see kids playing around it. I’ve rang the police a few times but they have always moved on by the time they arrive.
“The last time I saw it in use was around two years ago when it was used for storage, but since then I haven’t seen anyone near it – only kids.”
Eight fire appliances rushed to the corner of Lower London Road after the fire was reported shortly before 4pm yesterday.
Traffic was reduced to a crawl as motorists slowed to see through the thick smoke.
The church backs directly on to the East Coast Main Line, but no services were held up by the fire.
Graham Ferguson, 52, from Holyrood, was passing the building on his way home from work. He said: “I saw the fire engines racing out of Marionville Fire Station, only to find they were heading down here. It’s been boarded up in recent years.
“You’d hope it wasn’t kids messing about at the start of half-term because it’s a lovely old building which now looks to have been ruined.
“It’s incredible to see how quick it’s gone up and the roof’s caved in.”
Firefighters used two hydraulic platforms to quell the flames and brought the blaze under control within three hours.
Area commander Gary Laing said: “We had to liaise with Network Rail as there was a rail line at the back of the building. Thankfully, we didn’t have to close that line. We didn’t believe there was any hazardous materials within the building ”