POLICE say a fire that destroyed much of the derelict Chesham Hospital on Monday evening was started deliberately.
The blaze was tackled by 25 firefighters from Chesham, Amersham, Beaconsfield and High Wycombe after it broke out at the former hospital in Hospital Hill at 7.10pm.
Officers are now hunting the arsonists responsible for the blaze. No arrests had been made as the Examiner went to press yesterday (Wednesday).
Hospital Hill resident and Chesham town councillor Noel Brown described the dramatic scene on Monday evening: "I have to say it was quite frightening to see flames pouring over the top like that. It has destroyed quite a large section of the roof.
"Luckily - well, sadly, because it made the fire spread quicker - the wind was blowing the smoke fumes across the field, so it missed the houses.
"It's a very sad sight and a lot of people in the town will be saddened by what has happened."
The blaze broke out in the first floor and roof of the two-storey building and the crews tackled the flames using hose reels, jets and a turntable ladder.
Fire station manager Danny Whitelock said: "The damage took 50 per cent of the roof and 50 per cent of the first floor. It was quite a heavily involved fire but we brought it quickly under control."
The blaze was in hand by 9.30pm but firefighters stayed at the scene through the night to make sure it did not reignite.
Chesham town councillor Derek Lacey, who campaigned against the hospital closure in 2005, said: "The site has become quite bad for vandalism and anti-social behaviour and it needs to be built on to stop it happening."
Planning permission was granted recently for the building to be turned into an 80-bedroom specialist nursing and rehabilitation centre for Chesham Care, which says it will become one of Chesham's biggest employers.
Mr Brown said: "We are now desperate for them to get on with the development of the rehabilitation centre as soon as possible because that will help remove the problem and all uncertainty."
Chesham Care was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press. It is not clear how the fire damage will affect plans for the rehabilitation centre to be built on the site.