This month marks 20 years since a devastating blaze ripped through Uxbridge College, destroying classrooms and hundreds of students' work.

The 1989 fire gutted a staffroom hut, 14 classrooms and made four science labs unusuable with damage totalling £500,000.

But for some a price could not be put on the damage with 60 staff losing books and papers spanning 20 years' work.

More than 40 firefighters were called to the college at Park Road, Uxbridge, with units from Hillingdon, Hayes, Northolt and Ruislip all needed to tackle the raging inferno.

Only 10 months earlier a similar blaze had occurred at the college, with both believed to be arson.

Peter Meads, president of the students' union at the time, said: "To happen once is unbelievable, to happen again is a hell of a coincidence."

Students feared their exam chances had gone up in smoke as well as their books, with typewriters, science equipment, and word processing machines stored in the damaged block.

The disruption caused lessons to be cancelled and emergency classrooms had to be found for students, while staff were provided with counselling.

Despite the devastation college principal Tim Hannagan said staff were determined to carry on with their jobs.

He said at the time: "Morale has been remarkably high, staff won't let arsonists stop them providing education."

In the aftermath the security was dramatically stepped up with guards increasing nightly patrols and more smoke detectors were fitted.

Highly ambitious junior education minister John Butcher visited the college two weeks later to launch his campaign for better security at schools to prevent fires at school buildings.

Today the college is positively thriving, with a new £70million building project well under way and new centres and facilities opening up all the time offering more teaching space in all areas.

Laraine Smith, the current college principal, said of the fire: "The fire 20 years ago was a sad chapter in Uxbridge College's long history and thankfully nothing like it has happened since.

"Fire safety and security have improved immeasurably since then, making the college an extremely safe place to be, and of course with changes in technology there is much less paper about than there used to be.

"We run regular fire safety training sessions for staff and of course have a hi-tech fire safety system as well as smoke alarms all over the college.

"Where appropriate students can also use online resources instead of printed handouts and books, and we are also piloting schemes where course work can even be submitted and assessed online."

* To find out more about the modern day college, its courses and history visite