Eastbourne Pier fire: Firefighters save two thirds of structure

Laura Trant reports from Eastbourne Pier where the smouldering structure stands as a reminder of past disasters

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Fire crews have saved two thirds of Eastbourne Pier after fighting a major blaze in the structure.

The fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon behind wood panelling in the arcade building. The metal skeleton has survived.

Chief fire officer Des Pritchard said the outgoing tide and low water pressure had hampered crews, but their hard work had "paid off".

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said he was confident the pier could be repaired.

Lifeboat crews tackling pier RNLI crews helped firefighters put out the blaze with water from the sea

"It's still very much still standing, and I'm very hopeful and confident that it will be reopening next year and be back in business," he said.

He said the extent of the damage could not be compared with piers in Brighton or Hastings, which both suffered more significant blazes.

No-one was injured and the fire is not being treated as suspicious.

Eastbourne Borough Council leader David Tutt said he understood the fire had been started by an electrical fault.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said the cause was "unexplained" and the investigation was due to take "a number of days".

Mr Pritchard said: "Pier fires are very difficult to fight because there's only one way on to the pier from the land side.

"Our crews worked tremendously well and whilst some of the pictures in the media show what might be a scene of devastation, our crews managed to save two thirds of the pier."

He said most of the hotspots had been extinguished overnight, with RNLI lifeboat crews assisting.

Eastbourne Pier arcade building An investigation into the cause of the blaze is under way
Kay Healy Kay Healy, who works at the pier, said the attraction was very busy when the fire alarm went off
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BBC Sussex reporter Simon Jenkins

Looking towards the pier, if you start on the outer pavilion that's absolutely fine.

You move back along it and then you come to effectively a skeleton of steel and twisted iron.

It's a blackened hulk of twisted metal.

People are shocked, people are concerned and they're coming down to check if the rest of it is still here.

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Kay Healy, who works at the History Bear Collection on the pier, said the attraction was very busy when the fire alarm went off.

"When we walked towards the front of the pier there was smoke coming out of the arcade," she said.

"The pier was packed... it took five minutes to get people off.

"There was no panic, no-one running, just walking."

Aerial footage showed the extent of the blaze on Wednesday

She said it took at least 30 minutes before bystanders to see the flames.

"When we went to the other side of the pier, we realised how serious it was," Ms Healy said.

"The fire crew was trying to smash the roof in to get the hoses in and then all of a sudden the flames came from everywhere. It was horrendous."

Anthony Wills, director of the National Piers Society, said getting funds to repair it could be a challenge.

"The problem with Eastbourne Pier is that it's privately owned.

"It's owned by the people who own the piers at Blackpool so they're not eligible for Lottery money in the way that Hastings has been," he said.

"Hastings has received a Lottery award of £11.5m towards the £15m estimate for rebuilding. That is a major hurdle."

Mr Lloyd met with the pier's owners, business leaders and councillors to discuss the blaze and its aftermath earlier.

Darren Weir, chairman of the Eastbourne Hospitality Association, said the organisation was setting up a pier benevolence fund for staff who might be temporarily out of work

It would also help to find out if there are any temporary jobs available for displaced staff, he said.

BBC weather presenter Michael Fish, who was born in the town, tweeted: "Devastated. My childhood up in smoke. Eastbourne's pier must be rebuilt. It was the most attractive in the country."

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Pier fires
  • South Parade Pier in Southsea was destroyed by a blaze in 1904 and another fire in 1974 meant the pier needed rebuilding for a second time
  • The Indian Pavilion on Blackpool's North Pier was destroyed by fire in 1921
  • The Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare was damaged by fires in 1930 and 2008
  • The Grand Pier Pavilion at Herne Bay Pier was destroyed by a blaze in 1970
  • According to the National Piers Society, Morecambe Central Pier was damaged by fire in 1987 and then its ballroom was destroyed by fire in 1991
  • West Pier in Brighton burned down in 2003
  • Southend Pier was partly destroyed by fire in 2005
  • Fleetwood Pier in Lancashire burned down in 2008
  • Hastings Pier was almost destroyed by a fire on 5 October 2010
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