Two held after fire destroys Hastings pier

LONDON (Reuters) - Two teenagers were arrested on suspicion of arson on Tuesday after a large fire whipped up by strong winds destroyed much of a 138-year-old pier on the south coast, emergency services said.

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About 50 firefighters worked through the night to bring the blaze under control in Hastings, East Sussex. Opened in 1872, the Grade-II listed building had a concert hall that hosted some of the biggest names in music, including Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.

In its heyday, the pier was nearly 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) long and had a landing stage where tourists could take a paddle-steamer to nearby resorts or even cross the English Channel to the French port of Boulogne.

The fire engulfed the ballroom at the end of the pier and ripped through large parts of the rest of the structure, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said.

Television pictures showed bright orange flames along most of the pier, with thick smoke billowing into the night sky.

Two lifeboats and a police helicopter were called to the scene after the fire was first spotted at 1 a.m. There were no reports of any injuries. Sussex Police said they arrested two men, aged 18 and 19, from nearby St Leonards-on-Sea, on the seafront soon after the fire broke out.

“The alarm was raised by a member of the public, who informed two patrolling police officers the pier was alight,” a police spokesman said.

Councillor Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council, said the fire had destroyed most of the buildings on the pier and that a structural survey will take place to decide its fate.

“The firefighters worked heroically to try and contain the blaze,” he said. “But unfortunately, because of the wind, the state of the pier and the danger of going on it, the fire really took hold.”

Like many other piers around the coast, the building’s popularity had declined with the boom in foreign holidays in the 1960s. It was damaged by storms in the 1980s, fell into disrepair and finally closed in June 2006. Campaigners had been trying to restore the pier to its former glory.

Fire destroyed the 104-year-old pier at the Somerset resort of Weston-super-Mare in July 2008. Two months later, a blaze wrecked the 1910 pier at Fleetwood, Lancashire.

In 2005, a fire destroyed part of the world’s longest pleasure pier, at Southend-on-Sea in Essex, while Brighton’s historic West Pier was severely damaged in 2003.

Editing by Steve Addison