AN inferno yesterday laid waste to a historic pier in the southwest English resort of Weston-Super-Mare, dealing a further hammer blow to the seaside town's economy.
About 30 firefighters fought the massive blaze at the part-wooden Grand Pier, but there were no immediate reports of any injuries, Avon Fire and Rescue said.
The pier, which opened in 1904 at a time when British beach resorts were booming, stretches 400 metres into the Bristol Channel.
It had recently undergone a £ 1million ($2.8 million) refurbishment with a new funfair and go-kart track.
The Grand Pier was previously destroyed by fire in 1930 and rebuilt, opening three years later.
New owner Kerry Michael, who bought the pier earlier this year with his sister Michelle, was said to be "absolutely devastated" and was returning from holiday in Spain to deal with the aftermath, his spokesman Nigel Heath said.
"His whole plan was to turn it into a premiere tourist attraction; in fact he already had," he said.
"He had a huge personal involvement in the project and was totally committed to it."
Anthony Wills, of the National Piers Society, said the structure was subject to a preservation order. He described the inferno as an "absolute disaster" and feared the pier would be only partially rebuilt.
"It would cost a fortune (to repair). I suspect we will end up with a very truncated structure," he said. "Unless a miracle happens, I really can't see it being reinstated even if there's a big insurance pay-out."
National Piers Society executive committee member Mike Davies said the fire had taken the "super" out of Weston-super-Mare, whose seafront is currently undergoing a £28 million renovation.
Davies, who lives in the seaside town, said: "It's about the only tourist draw we've got left here. If you look at a picture of Weston-super-Mare, you always have the pier slap bang in the middle.
"I just hope it's re-built as soon as possible. But I can see it taking anything between two and four years."
Others were not convinced, fearing the worst as like other British seaside resorts, Weston has suffered from the lure of cheap foreign holidays.
Jeannette James, owner of The Beach Bistro, said: "It's absolutely devastating. If it goes Weston will have nothing.
"We have had so much go from this town already. Without the pier I don't think Weston can survive. We are very, very deeply concerned about it."
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. It was beautiful, it was our landmark."
Bar worker Katie Green, 21, said: "Weston was dying already. It's dead now."
Fire service officials said an investigation into what caused the fire would not start until at least later yesterday or today.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
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