Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 15:12 UK

Huge fire destroys historic pier

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Images of the fire on the historic Grand Pier

A huge fire has destroyed the historic Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare.

Dozens of firefighters fought to tackle the blaze which took hold of the partly wooden pier in the North Somerset seaside resort at about 0700 BST.

No-one was injured in the fire, which firefighters said started in an area containing deep fat fryers. Black smoke was visible more than 10 miles away.

The owners, who have recently bought and refurbished the pier, were said to be "absolutely devastated".

The flames have obliterated the pier's many serving hatches, bars and games booths leaving its 100 employees facing an uncertain future.

A statement is due to be made later by the pier's joint owner Kerry Michael regarding what will happen to their jobs.

The fire broke out at the foot of the West Tower. Photo: Penny Broomhall

Dee Williams, deputy manager of the Grand Atlantic Hotel, which lies 200 yards from the pier, described the fire as "an inferno" and heard loud bangs which she believed to be fireworks left over from a recent display.

"It is part of our identity and would really affect trade if we were to lose it," she said.

Jacquie Whelan, owner of Sunfold Hotel on Beach Road, said it was a "horrendous" sight, with massive red flames, hundreds of feet in the air, all over the pier.

"[It looked] like a huge bonfire," she said.

Police have placed a cordon around the pier and beach and advised people to avoid the area.

The quarter-of-a-mile-long pier, which attracts thousands of visitors a year, reopened in April after a massive revamp.

It first opened in 1904 and was later bought by the Brenner family who sold it earlier this year in a multi-million pound deal to brother and sister Michelle and Kerry Michael.

Mr Michael is said to be on his way home from holiday in Spain.

The Grand Pier: Then and now

"He had only just got there but has cut it short to come back," said his spokesman Nigel Heath.

"He is absolutely devastated. Mr Michael bought the pier in February and spent around 1m - he's installed a go-kart track, a climbing wall and fitted a bar for the first time.

"His whole plan was to turn it into a premier tourist attraction, in fact he already had.

"He had a huge personal involvement in the project and was totally committed to it."

Avon Fire and Rescue Service said the fire was well-developed by the time crews arrived and officers had to battle against "intense radiated heat".

Chief fire officer Kevin Pearson said: "Indications are that there were some deep fat fryers in the area where we believe the fire first started.

"We're fairly clear about where we think the fire first started and obviously our investigations will concentrate on that area."

The foundations of the structure, which is supported by iron girders, were said to be sound and not at risk of collapse.

Rod Brenner, who owned the pier until six months ago when he sold it to the current owners, said: "I think that what has happened is, fortunately it had a very thick hardwood floor, and I think that has held, from what I can see here.

Fire at Grand Pier: Picture by Peter Tyler

"The entire pavilion has gone admittedly, and it'll be obviously a huge project to rebuild it, which will take a considerable amount of time.

"I mean, when it burnt down last time, in 1930, it took three years and they probably moved a bit quicker then than we do nowadays."

Christopher Donkin, manager of Seaquarium aquarium in Marine Parade, some 500 yards from the pier, was alerted to the fire by a colleague as he drove to work. He said: "Fortunately, we're not in danger, no other properties are in any other danger.

"The fire brigade have put a wall of water along the walkway between the seafront and the end of the pier.

"Traffic this morning was absolutely chock-a-block.

"When I first saw the fire, to be honest my first thoughts were for the livelihoods of people who work here.

"It's Weston's number one attraction. It's full of childhood memories.

Grand Pier - pic from Weston-super-Mare website

"All those people's livelihoods and businesses - where will they go?"

Tory MP for Weston-super-Mare John Penrose said he was "shocked and dismayed" by the scenes at the Grand Pier.

"The Grand Pier is one of the icons of Weston's seafront," he said.

"Anybody who has ever visited the town or lives here permanently has probably strolled along the boardwalk, eating candyfloss, to play on the amusements at the far end.

"Kerry and Michelle Michael have been investing huge amounts of their own time and money into regenerating the pier. This is a tragedy for the town as a whole and for them in particular.

"The only piece of good news is that there are no reports of casualties. At least there is something to be thankful for."

Deputy leader of North Somerset Council Elfan Ap Rees said: "The structure going out of the pavilion is intact, the main structure underneath looks reasonably intact.

"I am absolutely convinced that the owners of the pier, who are local Weston people born and bred, will make every effort to see the Grand Pier rise again and we will do what we can to support that."




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