Page last updated at 19:59 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 20:59 UK

Owner vows to restore burnt pier


Images of the fire on the historic Grand Pier

The owner of the Grand Pier at Weston- super-Mare, which was destroyed in a fire, has said he "will work tirelessly to restore" the structure.

Kerry Michael, who bought the pier with his sister in February, said they were "absolutely devastated" by the blaze.

Dozens of firefighters tackled the fire which started in the North Somerset seaside resort at about 0700 BST.

No-one was injured in the blaze, which firefighters said started in an area containing deep fat fryers.

I feel very sorry for all our dedicated staff, many of whom have been here all their working lives and treasured the pier
Kerry Michael

But the fire service added the cause of the blaze might not be known till midweek as safety concerns were preventing crews from getting inside the pier's burnt shell.

Mr Michael, who cut short his holiday in Spain when the fire started, said the "magnificent" structure would be "restored to its former glory".

"I feel very sorry for all our dedicated staff, many of whom have been here all their working lives and treasured the pier," he said.

"I don't know how they are going to come to terms with this tragic loss.

The fire on the pier - picture by Penny Broomhall

"I feel very sorry for the people of Weston, for them the pier was Weston. In these difficult economic times I sincerely hope that this event doesn't bring further hardship to those businesses and people who rely on our tourist trade.

"I would like to assure all these people that we will work tirelessly to restore this magnificent structure to its former glory."

The pier had undergone a massive revamp last April after being sold in a multi-million pound deal to the Michaels.

A new 500,000 indoor go-kart track had just opened, with the addition of a climbing wall.

There are some 100 people employed on the pier, who are now facing an uncertain future as a result of the fire.

Fire service spokesman Jerry O' Brien said they did not think the steel girders which were holding up the pier were in danger of buckling.

Kerry Michael says his thoughts are with those who worked on the pier

He said: "Once a fire takes hold of a building like that - and bear in mind that we're operating a quarter of a mile from land there - it can be very easy to lose a building fairly quickly."

Robert Tinker, who has worked on the pier for 40 years and was one of the first on the scene on Monday morning, told BBC News he had removed explosive gas cylinders from the nearby workshops.

"By the time we removed them, it was getting very hot and the whole pier was alight," he said.

Meanwhile, an engineering expert who worked in the aftermath of the Windsor Castle fire 16 years ago questioned whether the pier had adequate protection.

Paul Scott, head of fire and risk at engineering consultant Faber Maunsell, said: "It is tragic that such a historic and well-used structure should suffer such serious fire damage.

'Privately owned'

"Recent experience shows that piers are vulnerable to fire and under threat.

"As the pier was required to have a risk assessment under new legislation, was it adequate?" he said.

Anthony Wills, of the National Piers Society, told BBC News the pier had been one of the most commercially successful in England.

He said: "I have yet to see the full extent of the damage but it looks as though below the decking it is sound.

"It will be a very expensive business and I am not sure whether the structure was insured - it can be very difficult to get insurance for piers.

"Unfortunately, because it is privately owned it is not eligible for lottery money."

Huge fire destroys historic pier
28 Jul 08 |  Somerset
Your pictures: Weston pier fire
28 Jul 08 |  In Pictures
Weston pier fire in video
28 Jul 08 |  UK
Pier fire's effect across channel
28 Jul 08 |  South East Wales


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