Fatal hotel fire in seaside resort

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The Independent Online

One man has died and six other people are missing after a seaside hotel blaze this morning.

Three others were taken to hospital after a huge blaze broke out at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, shortly after midnight.

The three injured were taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. Police said their injuries are not thought to be life threatening.

A number of other people with minor injuries were treated at the scene.

Guests staying at the Penhallow and two adjoining hotels were evacuated after the flames spread under the roof.

Cornwall County Fire Brigade's deputy chief fire officer Ted Simpson said firefighters are still searching the building for casualties.

Mr Simpson said the number of people unaccounted for had been reduced from eight to six after two people turned up safe and well. They had not been inside the hotel.

He said the other six who are still missing "may or may not be inside the building".

A fire investigation team are on site and have already started trying to find out what caused the blaze.

"That's being hampered as the structure is unsafe and there is a danger it will collapse," he said.

He said the roof had been destroyed and all the floors of the hotel had collapsed as a result of the fire, rather than due to water damage.

"It was very well developed even before the fire brigade arrived," he added.

More than 100 firefighters were sent to the four-storey seafront hotel this morning after a a member of staff had called 999 at 12.17am.

Devon and Cornwall Police said 86 residents were evacuated from the hotel.

Police said the emergency planning officer from Cornwall County Council had set up a reception centre for those evacuated at a local pub, the Fort Inn, in Fore Street, Newquay.

Superintendent John Green from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Basic Command Unit said: "The fire is being treated as a major incident.

"Inevitably this has caused a lot of disruption to people nearby but those affected by it have shown a great deal of understanding which has helped the emergency services immensely.

"A casualty bureau and information line have been set up, but I ask that anyone with concerns about individuals who may be affected by the fire try to make direct contact with them first by whatever means are available.

"It is too early to speculate on the cause of the fire and the scene will be examined by specially trained officers once the fire service advise us that it safe to do so."

Island Crescent and Trebarwith Crescent will remain closed until a structural engineer has examined the remains of the hotel.

The Penhallow Hotel is owned by Holdsworth Hotels which also has hotels in Torquay, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight. It is part of the Robinsons Holidays group, based in Blackburn, Lancashire.

A spokesman for the firm said: "We do know that there were at least 86 people in the hotel who were with a Robinsons coach holiday. Robinsons do use it a lot. They are part of the same group that owns the hotel and they do cater for the more mature passenger, largely from the north and north-west of England.

"It seems that everyone who successfully got out has been accommodated elsewhere in local hotels and we are making arrangement to reunite them with their belongings and check them over.

"Robinsons are endeavouring to make arrangements for them to travel home as soon as appropriate.

"There were people who were about to go to the Penhallow Hotel. The company are trying to contact them at the moment to see what alternative arrangements can be made."

Officers said the guests, who are mainly elderly, were too traumatised to talk.

The remains of the Penhallow Hotel are little more than a few blackened walls and large parts of the building - which is part of a terrace overlooking Newquay seafront - have collapsed and most of the roof has come down.

A police cordon is still in force around the hotel and officers said that six people are still missing.

Jan Sturgess, county fire brigade spokesman, said it was too early to comment on how the fire started.

"It has been an extremely difficult operation. There were 90 people staying in the hotel - three staff, one driver and the rest were residents," he said.

"We can confirm there are still six people unaccounted for. A lot of work was done to rescue and protect the other people.

"There was a mixture of age groups, but it tended to be older population.

"We do expect to start work on the demolition in the next few hours, but it will be a stage-by-stage process. We are going to be here for some time.

"We will not leave this scene until we are fully satisfied everyone has been accounted for.

"We still have pockets of fire in there."

Asked about the likelihood the six missing people would be found safe, Supt John Green, police incident commander, said: "It is fair to say that some time has now elapsed. It may well just be that they found a bed for the night, but as time goes by we are of course concerned."

The firm has set up a helpline on 01254 889900.The police information line is 0800 056 0154.

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