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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 August 2007, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Safety work at fire-ravaged hotel
The ferocious blaze gutted the four-storey building

Construction crews are working to make safe a seaside hotel gutted by fire as search teams wait to begin looking for two people still missing.

A man died and five people were hurt in the blaze at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, on Saturday morning.

Police said they believed the dead man, who was 43, had fallen from a second-floor window of the hotel.

Two other people who were reported missing after the fire have presented themselves to police in Newquay.

Supt John Green said the fire was still smouldering and no-one could begin searching until it was completely out.

"There's still smoke issuing from what remains of the Penhallow Hotel and therefore it is still a fire," he told BBC News 24.

He said search teams hoped to gain access to the scene by Sunday afternoon.

More than 80 people safely escaped from the building, but there are fears for those still missing.

Holdsworth Hotels has set up a helpline for anyone concerned about a friend or relative on 01254 889 900

Chief Constable Stephen Otter said: "The longer we go on the more concerned we become for the welfare of those people."

Four people are still in hospital and one, an elderly woman, is critical, but her condition is improving.

Clearing debris

John McMillan, a director at Holdsworth Hotels which owns the Penhallow, said the company was "shocked and saddened" at what had happened.

He said the health and safety of guests was of "paramount concern" and that he was confident the evacuation of the hotel had gone "to plan".

"A fire marshal was appointed for each floor and I am confident the staff did their job and it worked as well as possible," Mr McMillan added.

On Sunday morning, Supt Green said teams were beginning to clear rubble from the road beside the hotel.

Tribute to hotel fire

"We will then start pulling debris from the scene. We hope to have screens up and to get in by early afternoon," he continued.

"There will be two teams of fire and police investigators. The fire investigators will look for the cause of the fire and the police will look for evidence linked to any cause of death and any bodies that may be in there."

Anyone who was in the building at the time of collapse was unlikely to have survived, Supt Green added.

Earlier, specialist demolition crews pulled down the precarious upper floors of the four-storey hotel.

Wooden fire escape

Cornwall Fire Brigade chief officer Matt Littmoden said there had been a timber fire escape at the rear of the hotel.

He said there had been issues over the "structural integrity" of the fire escape, but no concerns over the fact it was made of wood.

The fire escape had last passed a safety inspection in 2006. The hotel's owners said smoke detectors and fire doors had been checked two weeks ago.

Police said a burglary took place the evening before the fire, but they were not currently linking the two events.

Map showing Newquay

They are keen to talk to any potential witnesses of the burglary which happened shortly after 1900 BST on Friday.

Devon and Cornwall emergency services said that when the fire broke out at 0015 BST, the hotel was close to capacity with 86 guests, three members of staff and a coach driver in the building.

And Supt Green said assistance was drawn from a wide area to tackle the blaze.

"We live in a very rural part of the world. With its own beauty comes the fact that resources can be dispersed across the 1,400 square miles of Cornwall," Mr Green said.

Some guests from the hotel were cared for at the nearby Reef Surf Lodge and a sports hall while more than 70 are returning to their homes in north-west England.

Floral tributes have been placed near the hotel. One read: "In tragic circumstances such as these all I can offer is my personal sympathy and condolences for everyone who is affected by this terrible event."

The Penhallow is used regularly by Robinsons Holidays, a family-run tour operator based in Lancashire. Robinsons and Holdsworth Hotels are owned by the same parent company, O&C Holdsworth.

Eyewitness describes the scene of the fire

Demolition begins at blaze hotel
18 Aug 07 |  Cornwall
Man dies in fire at resort hotel
18 Aug 07 |  Cornwall

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