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LONDON (Reuters) - A major fire destroyed the 104-year-old pier at the Somerset resort of Weston-super-Mare in less than two hours on Monday, emergency services said.
Flames and thick black smoke shot high into the blue sky above the pier and could be seen for miles around, a fire brigade spokeswoman said.
About 80 firefighters from across the southwest were called to tackle the blaze, which started shortly before 7 a.m.
The fire gutted all the wooden buildings on the pier, although its iron supports and deck remain standing.
Aerial pictures taken afterwards showed a mass of twisted, charred metal on the deck of the still-smoking pier.
The Avon Fire and Rescue Service said there were no reports of any injuries. Fire crews at first struggled to get within 50 or 60 metres of the intense blaze.
"They battled extremely hard against intense radiated heat," Chief Fire Officer Kevin Pearson told Sky News. "Most of the building has been lost in the fire."
Police closed part of the beach and told people to stay away from the town centre. A spokesman said there were large traffic jams in the area. It is the height of the tourist season and visitors have been enjoying fine weather all weekend.
Witnesses said the fire engulfed the pier within minutes of the first flames being spotted. The plume of smoke could be seen in Wales across the Severn Estuary.
"All you can see is thick, thick black smoke and loads of red flame," one eyewitness told BBC Radio Bristol. "The whole of the Grand Pier, the top of it, is collapsing. It's just really, really sad."
Fire officials said it was too early to say what caused the blaze. An investigation will begin later.
The pier was built in 1903-04 to attract visitors to the town centre. The quarter-mile long structure has housed a music hall, theatre and a go-kart track. It reopened in April after an extensive refurbishment.
Two other piers have suffered big blazes in recent years: in 2005 part of Southend pier, the world's longest pleasure pier, was destroyed by fire and later rebuilt. Two years earlier, the derelict West Pier at Brighton had been gutted by a major blaze.
Reporting by Peter Griffiths; editing by Steve Addison