Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 16:41 UK

Pier fire threatens resort's future

The Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare on fire
The Grand Pier had recently undergone a 1m refurbishment

Since it first opened to the public in 1904, Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier has been the iconic image associated with the resort.

It has entertained millions of holiday-makers over the years and holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

But as fire ripped through the mostly-wooden structure, it was destroyed for the second time in its history.

When BBC Somerset's breakfast presenter Adam Thomas saw the images coming in live of the Grand Pier burning he said he "gasped live on-air".

Mr Thomas, a Westonian, went to see what was left of the pier as soon as he could.

"Having seen it for myself it certainly brought a lump to my throat," he said.

"I think of it as my pier and I think all Westonians will know what I mean."

There's nothing left now. What is Weston? Only the pier and the donkeys
Nicky Mager

As the flames engulfed the pier a plume of black smoke was seen as far away as Wales.

Retired couple Norman and Joan Foster, 86 and 82, have been enjoying day trips to Weston since 1965, shortly after they were married.

Mrs Foster said: "It's so sad when these sorts of buildings go.

"We used to enjoy it because there was so much there - rolling the pennies down, that sort of thing."

Rachel King, who lives on the seafront in Weston, said she woke up to see a "massive ball of fire".

"As I looked out of my flat, I could see the flames fill the windows - we are devastated," she said.

"This is at the heart of our community."

Resort 'doomed'

The impact the pier's loss will have is already being talked about. It employs 100 people who are waiting to hear if they still have jobs.

Nicky Mager, 37, whose family owns a chain of refreshment outlets and donkey rides on the seafront said the resort was "doomed" after the tragedy.

"I'm absolutely gutted. This is going to affect us massively. I just felt shivers down my spine. There's nothing left now - Weston's doomed," she said.

"We had a family here last week and the weather wasn't good. They said, 'What else can we do here - we've been to the pier twice.' Well, now that's gone. What is Weston? Only the pier and the donkeys."

Damage assessed

The quarter-of-a-mile-long pier was recently refurbished for an estimated 1m by new owners, brother and sister Michelle and Kerry Michael.

They had planned to turn it into a premier tourist attraction.

Structural engineers are liaising with fire crews to assess the structural damage to the pier.

A fire service spokesman said it was not believed that the steel girders holding up the Grand Pier were in danger of buckling.

As the town comes to terms with the loss of the pier, Adam Thomas said now more than ever before "Weston needs to live up to its motto: Ever Forward".

Huge fire destroys historic pier
28 Jul 08 |  Somerset
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