Last night’s huge fire at the former St Crispin’s psychiatric hospital near Duston was an accident waiting to happen, according to nearby residents who say the site has become a vandalism hotspot in recent years.
Fire and police officers are currently on site at the 1876 building, trying to determine the cause of the blaze.
But many of those living nearby said the site is easily - and regularly- accessed by groups of youths.
Keith Hall, 34, of Ash Wood Road, was one of around 300 people who witnessed the fire last night.
He said: “I’ve lived in Duston all my life - I remember 10 years ago kids set fire to the theatre.
“From what everyone was saying last night, there’s been kids reported up there over the last few days.”
Samantha Jones, who was evacuated from one of the flats at the St George’s House block of apartments on the former hospital grounds last night, said: “It’s easy for people to get in there.
“If nothing else, someone was going to die by going in there and exploring.”
Northamptonshire County Councillor Matthew Golby (Con, Duston West and St Crispin) was at the scene this morning.
He said: “I think most of the residents up here said this was inevitable.
“It certainly highlights the fact that something needs to done with the site - at the moment it’s an open adventure playground.”
Others at the scene this morning described how the fire tore through the 19th Century building in a matter of minutes.
Leann Foster, 24, lives opposite the former hospital and took a video of the fire over 20 minutes.
Her footage shows that within six minutes of just part of the roof catching fire, the entire structure is engulfed.
Some described the intense heat and others a ‘crackling’ noise for miles around as wooden parts of the structure burned. One woman from another part of Duston two miles away said she thought she could hear a ‘firework display’.
Miss Foster said: “I remember feeling really quite angry - but at the same time I feel that it has been there for ages standing empty. It would just be easier if it was knocked down now.”
Others turned up at the scene this morning because of links to the former hospital.
Military historian and former army medic Graham Bandy, 49, of Spratton, was trained in the very building that burned down, a former nurse’s college. The same building was subject to a blaze in 1979.
Mr Bandy said: “It’s such a crying shame, especially seeing as 100 years ago this week it was turned into Duston War Hospital. There were thousands of beds and thousand of British Empire soldiers would have ben treated here.
“I was devastated when I heard the news. It was a wonderful place to work, it really was.”
Rev Chris Goodley, who lives in Duston, worked at the hospital as an NHS chaplain from 1988 to 1995.
“In a way this is sad,” he said. “But I was more worried about the people in the new buildings nearby.”
While many were glad to see the former water tower, with its large clock face, seemingly intact after last night’s fire, Rev Goodley believes it is time it was demolished.
“It was always a symbol of suffering to me,” he said.