Probe after blaze wrecks empty Blackpool hotel

A fire which destroyed a prominent building in a seaside resort could be arson, the fire service said today.

More than 100 firefighters tackled the inferno in the unoccupied Grand Hotel complex in Blackpool throughout the night.

John Taylor, spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, confirmed they are investigating the possibility that the fire was started deliberately.

He said: "Arson is certainly being considered. At this early stage we are not ruling anything out."

The structure "could possibly crash to the ground", Mr Taylor said, and it is thought building inspectors will decide today it must be demolished.

"The hotel was unoccupied at the time but there is a dense network of streets in that area and airborne embers and sparks were showering down on the roads so it was important that we got everyone in the surrounding areas out," he said.

The alarm was raised at 9.50pm yesterday and 15 fire crews were sent to the scene in Station Road.

They battled against the blaze near Blackpool's South Pier until 5.30am when they managed to contain it.

No-one was injured and more than 100 people were evacuated from the area and led to safety.

The once imposing building, which is now just a burnt out shell, was converted into a pub, five ensuite hotel rooms and 51 self-catered apartments.

But it had recently been boarded up, and to-let signs were plastered on its exterior before the blaze.

The Paris Casino lies adjacent to the Grand Hotel complex and at least 50 people were inside when the blaze broke out. They were taken to Palatine Leisure Centre along with local residents.

It is the latest blaze to ravage a well-known building in the resort - the historic Yates' wine lodge was gutted in a blaze in February.

Aaron Bell, 21, of Derby Road, North Shore, was charged with aggravated arson and the case is currently going through the courts.