A COMMUNITY group were led to safety after the doors of the hall they were using were set alight in Mauchline.

Firefighters rescued 15 members of the Slimming World club who were meeting in the church hall at Castle Street.

Their ordeal began when smoke began billowing into the hall just before 8.30pm on Tuesday, February 21.

Earlier reports had suggested that youths had been roaming around in the area just before the outbreak.

A spokesman for Scottish Fire and Rescue said: “There was a potential threat to the people inside the building who were taken safely out.

“Two crew members wearing breathing apparatus were deployed with a high-power hose reel jet to extinguish the fire.

“Police and CID officers were also in attendance to investigate the deliberate fire.

“We remained at the scene while awaiting Scottish Power engineers to attend and isolate the power supply.

“A visit from our community action team was also arranged to review their systems and issue fire safety guidance.”

Residents reacted with fury when details of the incident emerged.

Elizabeth Conquer said : “I am shocked and saddened to hear this. All the good work done in the community and some would seek to, not only destroy the property, but place lives at risk, it beggars belief.”

A consultant of Slimming World added: “I can’t praise the fire service enough, they were there within five minutes of calling and got things under control.

“Everyone was safe which was the main thing but I’m so sorry to see the hall in such a state.”

Margaret McIntosh spoke to the Chronicle when we visited the scene, saying: “Why do people do these things? At a church of all places. It is very infuriating.”