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

Posted on 3:44 AM by Sameer Shah

The blaze, described by witnesses as an "inferno", ripped through the partly-wooden structure and sent clouds of grey smoke spiralling into the air above the resort in Somerset.

It took barely an hour to reduce the Grade II-listed pier, which had recently been bought and refurbished by new owners, to a tangle of blackened metal this morning. The smoke could be seen up to 15 miles away.

Dee Williams, deputy manager of the Grand Atlantic Hotel, which lies 200 yards from the pier, said: "I am watching it now and I think it is going to collapse. It is an inferno. There will be no pier by tonight.

"There are loud bangs going off, which could be fireworks because there was a display on there recently. The tide is out and I think they are having difficulty getting water to it.

"My night porter spotted the flames at 7.15am. There are lots of people about, watching the fire, and the police have blocked off the road.

"The pier was bought by new owners and done up recently, it is part of our identity and would really affect trade if we were to lose it."

Jacquie Whelan, owner of Sunfold Hotel on Beach Road, said:

"I just looked out of the window about ten minutes ago when I woke up and could not believe what I was seeing.

"It is the most horrendous thing. They are massive red flames, hundreds of feet in the air, all over the pier.

"We are a 5-minute walk to the pier, and from where I am standing it just looks like a huge bonfire.

"It is not going to survive."

The fire is believed to have started in the staff canteen area of the west tower of the Grade II listed pier, which is privately owned.

Avon Fire and Rescue said six fire engines and 30 firefighters were at the scene.

Asked if the fire was believed to be suspicious, a spokesman for Avon Fire and Rescue said: "It is obviously a matter which will be referred to by the fire investigators.

"The seriousness of the incident is not known at present but there are no reports of any injuries."

Regarded as the last of the great pleasure piers to have been built, it was opened in 1904 to cater for the large numbers of Edwardian visitors arriving by train who felt that the Birnbeck Pier was too far from the centre of the resort.

The Grand Pier pavilion became home to opera, music hall, stage plays and ballet, while the Birnbeck Pier provided the bulk of the rides and amusements.

However, in 1930 the pavilion was completely destroyed by fire and when it was re-opened in 1933 it contained a large funfair rather than a theatre.

In 1993 a new bowling alley was added at a cost of £250,000 and in the following winter a further £350,000 was spent on a two-storey funhouse and Ferris wheel, along with essential replacement of worn decking.

Brother and sister Michelle and Kerry Michael bought the Grand Pier in January in a multi-million pound deal. They ploughed £1million into a revamp and reopened it in April.

The Red Arrows had been due to fly over the pier in an air show next month and a new £500,000 indoor go-kart track had just opened at the pier, which had recently sported a new climbing wall.

Meanwhile, the old Birnbeck Pier, to the north of the town, is now derelict, although a Manchester-based company which purchased it in 2006 had promised to restore it.

Andrew Horler, mayor of Weston-super-Mare, said: "This is completely devastating - a massive loss."

He added: "It is a real blow for Weston. It is an iconic, beautiful building. It represents Weston. It is in almost every single shot of the town.

"The new owners had incredible plans for the pier. They were making changes. I am lost for words over the pure devastation. It is incredibly sad news. The facility has been there for over 100 years. It is celebrated by local people. It is a really important tourist attraction. I do hope something is able to be rebuilt."

The blaze comes at the start of the holiday season, but Mr Horler said there were other attractions in the town, including miles of beach, and he hoped visitors would not be deterred.

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