Arsonists blamed for washed-up wood fire

Arsonists set alight a large stack of timber washed up on a beach afer a cargo ship sank in the English Channel.

Nearly 50 firefighters were called out at 2.30am yesterday to deal with a 20m pile of wood burning on the seafront at Worthing, West Sussex. The timber washed ashore from the Greek-registered ship Ice Prince, which sank in rough seas off Portland Bill in Dorset on 15 January.

There were fears the fire would spread to other piles of salvaged wood and beach huts but fire crews were aided by an offshore breeze.

Officers used seven firefighting jets to douse the flames as a contractor with a mechanical digger broke up the wood pile.

Dave Howells, of West Sussex Fire Service, condemned those responsible. The incident meant crews from outside the area had to be drafted in to deal with a house blaze in Worthing.

"Although this might be seen as just a large bonfire on a beach, it has tied up our resources for several hours when they could have been needed elsewhere for a more life-threatening emergency," said Mr Howells.

Beaches along the Sussex coast from Ferring to Hastings were littered with 2,000 tonnes of timber when the Ice Prince sank. Worthing was worst affected, with large areas of the front covered.