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Fire rips through Eastbourne Pier

Posted on 30th July 2014 at 22:36pm

A devastating fire has torn through Eastbourne Pier.

The roof of the pier, built in the East Sussex seaside town in the 1870s, has been completely destroyed.

The pier was evacuated. No-one was injured in the fire and police said it was not thought to be suspicious.

David Tutt, leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said he was hopeful the pier could be repaired and that he understood the fire had been started by an electrical fault.

"The emergency services have done a fantastic job," he said.

"The fact that as far as we're aware that nobody's hurt - we're not aware of anybody unaccounted for - they evacuated the site very quickly and they've managed to contain it to that front dome so there's hope of getting the pier restored.

"The building which has been affected is the largest dome on the pier, and it has been badly damaged - but further down it looks as it's always looked.

"My understanding... [is] it looks as if there was a problem with electrics in the wall of the dome between the two layers of the wall there and that seems to be where it started."

The blaze broke out behind some wood panelling in the arcade building and billowing smoke filled the air.

Sian Ellis, a hotel manager in the town, said it was an "absolute red, molten, mess of flame and smoke".

"We've just had another explosion there and it's very, very frightening and hugely saddening for the whole of the town," she said.

About 80 firefighters tackled the blaze in the privately-owned pier with some expected to remain on the scene for several hours, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said.

A fire service spokesman said: "Firefighters are using lifeboats to help tackle the fire from the sea and an aerial platform is being used as a water tower to prevent the fire from spreading on the shore side."

He said crews had gone onto the pier from the sea-ward end to try to stop the fire spreading further along the structure and the blaze was being "brought under control".

Mark Sawyer, coxswain of Eastbourne Lifeboat, said: "The main structure is gone now and it's a metal shell. The fire has spread to the middle section and it's burning frantically.

"There was a large cheer from the crowd when the hoses arrived, but it's now looking ominous."

Pier fires

  • The Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare was damaged by fires in 1930 and 2008
  • Hastings Pier was almost destroyed by a fire on 5 October 2010
  • West Pier in Brighton burned down in 2003
  • The Indian Pavilion on Blackpool's North Pier was destroyed by fire in 1921
  • South Parade Pier in Southsea was destroyed by a blaze in 1904
  • Another fire in 1974 meant the pier needed rebuilding for a second time

Councillor Philip Ede, from Eastbourne Borough Council, who witnessed the fire, said: "It looks pretty drastic from where I'm standing.

"There's a lot of smoke and flames engulfing the first section of the pier. We pray the fire brigade can save as much of the building as possible."

Des Pritchard, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer, said: "Our firefighters have saved a huge amount of the pier - there's a great deal that's still there.

"It is very sad but pier fires are very difficult to fight and many result in the complete loss of the pier."

A police spokeswoman added: "It has been confirmed that the pier was safely and quickly evacuated and there was no-one trapped by the fire when it broke out.

"The fire is not believed to be suspicious at this time."

Ant Miller, who was on the beach when the fire broke out, said it quickly spread throughout the building.

"There's quite a warm breeze here in Eastbourne today so it took pretty quickly," he said.

"Within 20 minutes or so, lots of flames, lots of smoke. When we noticed it, it looked like the pier was evacuated pretty much immediately."

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said it looked like the pier had been saved from being completely destroyed.

"The good news is that we don't have a Brighton or Hastings scenario where the whole pier is destroyed," he said.

Airbourne, one of Eastbourne's biggest events, is due to take place on the seafront between 14 and 17 August.

The pier was built in the 1870s and, according to the Piers Society, previously had a theatre and a "camera obscura" built on it.

Today, a number of cafes, bars and a nightclub are situated along the pier.

It has featured in films and television programmes including the Michael Caine movie Last Orders and Brit flick Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.

Hastings Pier was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 2010 and West Pier in Brighton burned down in 2003.

The BBC's Sarah Bell: My Eastbourne

As someone raised on the sunshine coast, seeing the pier in flames has left me feeling deeply sad and unsettled.

The symbol of the town, its Victorian structure was the constant backdrop to my childhood of chilly dips in the sea.

It even played a part in the social structure of teenage years - with the beaches either side reserved for the coolest kids.

Later it was where we would drink local cider and snog boys, in the years before nights out involved tottering up to the nightclub at the end.

Within an hour of the news my Facebook feed was filled with local friends expressing sadness and shock that a key part part of the town's history could be so easily destroyed.

I just hope that it can be restored and not suffer the fate of the structures in neighbouring towns.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2014 BBC

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