England's historic Weston-super-Mare Grand Pier destroyed by fire

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Monday morning at approximately 7:00 am BST (UTC+1) fire fighters arrived at the Weston-super-Mare Grand Pier in North Somerset, England, which had caught fire.

No one was injured in the blaze, which destroyed the pier. Firefighters said they believe the fire started in an area containing deep fat fryers. Smoke could be seen as far away as ten miles.

"Indications are that there were some deep fat fryers in the area where we believe the fire first started," said chief fire officer Kevin Pearson. "We're fairly clear about where we think the fire first started and obviously our investigations will concentrate on that area."

The pier ablaze.
Image: Dave Cozens.

A local hotel operator described the fire as an "inferno" and said of the pier: "It is part of our identity and would really affect trade if we were to lose it."

The owner of the pier bought it in February of this year, but was in Spain on holiday at the time of the fire. "He is absolutely devastated," said spokeperson Nigel Heath. "He had a huge personal involvement in the project and was totally committed to it."

The loss of the pier could affect the resort town of Weston-super-Mare. The Grand Pier itself employed around 100 people, but other businesses also depended on it as an attraction.

"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," said Nicky Mager who runs a family business of donkey rides and refreshment outlets in the seafront town.

An USAR team is evaluating if anything can be saved from the pier. The remains are not expected to collapse into the sea as they are on steel girders.

"The USAR team are going there to see if there is anything they can do to help secure the pier," said Avon Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Helen Shrimpton. "I can say that the pier was all locked up when we arrived and we needed bolt croppers and an angle-grinder to get in." She also said that investigators are keeping an open mind to the possibility of arson.

This is the second time the Grand Pier, first built in 1904, has been destroyed by fire. In 1930 it burnt down, after which it re-opened in 1933.