Fleetwood's landmark pier gutted by fire

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's historic piers has been consumed by flames. Firefighters were called to tackle the blaze at Fleetwood Pier in Lancashire during the early hours of yesterday morning. Despite their best efforts the fire raged for more than four hours and left little more than a mass of twisted and charred metal.

The ramshackle pier is the second to disappear in flames this summer following a fire two months ago which destroyed the famous Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare. Fires have also gutted piers in Southend-on-Sea and in Brighton.

More than 90 firefighters and 10 engines tackled the blaze after a 4.30am call from a member of the public, who saw smoke coming from the century-old pier.

High-level cranes pumped water from a boating lake to douse the flames as dozens of people lined the promenade to watch the town's most famous landmark gradually succumb.

A spokeswoman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze had already taken hold of much of the pier by the time firefighters arrived. "When they got there it was well alight and structurally it has been destroyed," said the spokeswoman.

The pier, built towards the end of the great age of pier building in 1910, had fallen into disrepair and had been boarded up when rough sleepers moved in.

Sheila Grace, 60, born in Fleetwood and owner of the nearby Sandpipers Hotel on the Esplanade, spoke of her sadness. She said: "I know things have changed, but it was the jewel in Fleetwood's crown – everybody headed there and everybody knew it – and in the last few years it has been just nothing."

Although fire chiefs said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze, many people expressed their suspicions about teenagers who lingered on the derelict pier in the evenings.

Eric Smallman, 43, who owns the Savoy hotel 75 yards from the pier, said: "We have had a bit of trouble recently with kids breaking into it and causing mischief really. Lots of local residents were concerned something like this would happen. It was boarded up in the last few days and I have heard this morning that kids were in there last night. It sounds like they were messing around and inadvertently started the fire. It hasn't been a nice pier to look at and needed something doing with it. It would have been nice to bring it back to use."

Wyre Borough Council leader Russell Forsyth said: "It is devastating to see what has happened, but thankfully there was no loss of life, which is always the first consideration.

"It was also fortunate that the wind was blowing in the right direction to keep the fire away from neighbouring houses and the promenade. The council must get together with the owner to clean up the site as soon as possible."

The town had been divided over the future of the famous pier. The owner had wanted to redevelop the site and turn it into luxury flats but hundreds of people had signed a petition to keep the pier.

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