Owners of fire-ravaged pier left 'shattered'

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Owners of a pier destroyed by fire today were left "shattered" after seeing their multimillion-pound investment go up in flames, family members said.

The Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare was engulfed within minutes after a blaze began in the west tower of the 104-year-old site.

Firefighters later indicated the fire, which began at around 6.30am, may have been caused by deep-fat fryers.

Kerry and Michelle Michael, who bought the tourist attraction in February, had been hit by "the worst luck imaginable", locals claimed.

Avon Fire and Rescue, who took two hours to control the fire, said there were no reports of any injuries.

The Michaels - a brother and sister pairing - were "utterly devastated", a close family member said.

The woman, who asked not be named, said: "Michelle has been at the scene all morning while Kerry has been coming back from Spain.

"I have hardly spoken to Michelle because she is so shattered. They both are. All those hopes, all those dreams, have been shattered."

Mr Michael, who is also the managing director of the Weston-based insurance firm Regency Ltd, was flying home to the UK, his spokesman said.

Nigel Heath said: "Mr Michael is on his way home from Spain. He had only just got there but has cut it short to come back.

"He is absolutely devastated. His whole plan was to turn it into a premier tourist attraction, in fact he already had."

The Michael family had already spent £1 million as part of a regeneration of the site, including a new bar, funfair and go-kart track.

The new owners also planned to open restaurants and offer Victorian-style shows.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer Kevin Pearson said there were deep-fat fryers found in the area of the superstructure, where they believe the fire started.

Firefighters fought to tackle the flames but they quickly took hold of the partly-wooden structure. Within an hour-and-a-half the main pier building was completely wrecked.

When asked if the blaze was believed to be suspicious, a spokeswoman said: "It is obviously a matter which will be referred to by the fire investigators."

Donna Hill, senior carer at The Royal Air Forces Association, a respite centre opposite the pier, said: "It is so sad. There are people everywhere and so many are in tears.

"We have had a great few weeks, with all the sunshine, a helicopter day and the music festival T4 On the Beach, but now everybody is in despair.

"There is nothing left of the pier. What else have we got? It was beautiful, it was our landmark."

Tory MP for Weston-super-Mare John Penrose said the blaze was tragic for the town.

Mr Penrose said: "The Grand Pier is one of the icons of Weston's seafront.

"Kerry and Michelle Michael have been investing huge amounts of their own time and money into regenerating the pier. This is a tragedy for the town as a whole and for them in particular."

Andrew Horler, mayor of the seaside town, said the blaze had stopped the "heartbeat" of Weston.

He told Sky News: "I really, really hope it can be rebuilt - it's pure devastation for the town."

The flames and smoke were visible for miles.

James Kelsey, a chef at Rabaiotti's Cafe on the seafront in Penarth, South Wales, said: "It's a bit misty out there this morning, but you can see a red glow in the sky from here. It's quite obvious."

Firefighters said it was "lucky" the fire did not start yesterday, when the resort was "heaving" with visitors during a mini-heatwave.

Ken Perrett, owner of the Sandringham Hotel, directly opposite the pier, said: "I was on the pier yesterday and it was buzzing, it was heaving with people.

"It is the lifeblood of the town and has come to life since the new owner, Kerry Michael, bought it, with live music and hog roasts.

"It is a tragic loss, it is devastating."

The whole seafront in the North Somerset town is in the middle of a major revamp under a £28 million grant-funded scheme.

The damage of the blaze would run into "several millions", Mr Penrose estimated.