The fire broke out at Westleigh Methodist Primary School on Sunday 25 March. Image: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.

A fire 'thought to be' caused by an electrical fault with solar panels has ripped through the roof of a primary school in Leigh, west of Manchester.

Four fire engines from Hindley, Atherton, Wigan and Leigh were called to Westleigh Methodist Primary School yesterday (25 Sunday) morning to deal with a fire that had broken out on the roof of the main hall.

The fire was contained after a few hours, with an investigation by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) finding that it was “most likely caused by electric solar panels on the roof of the main hall of the school”.

GMFRS found that the fire originated at the point where solar panels were “embedded” in the roof, however due to the fire damage to the panels and electricals, officers have been unable to determine exactly why the electrical fault occurred.

Station manager Chris Roberts said: “A GMFRS Fire Investigation officer examined the fire burn patterns and determined that the source of the fire was at roof level. The fire started on the right hand side of the roof, where a number of solar panels were in place – causing the fire to spread resulting the whole roof being ablaze. The pattern of the fire burn would also conclude that the fire’s origin was in the vicinity of the solar panels.”

An eyewitness claimed to have seen approximately four of the panels on the roof of the school ablaze in the area suggested by Roberts.

“Examination on the inside of the main hall found charring on the top of the wooden beams which were situated under the roof of the building which would only occur if the fire was above the beam. Due to the intense heat of the fire, wiring from the panels were burnt away so we are unable to determine if or why an electrical fault occurred,” he added.

Westleigh Methodist Primary School is to remain closed to most of its students until after the Easter holiday break and could not be reached to provide comment or further details regarding the installed array.

A government report published alongside the Building Research Establishment (BRE) last summer found that fires involving solar panels are most commonly caused by errors in the installation process rather than any particular technological faults.