Hastings Pier 'at risk of collapse into sea after fire'

Hastings Pier after the fire
Image caption The fire began with a series of blasts and engulfed the pier, destroying the structure

The historic Hastings Pier in East Sussex is at risk of collapsing into the sea following a major fire, the local council has warned.

Up to 95% of the pier was destroyed as emergency services struggled to get the blaze under control in the early hours.

Hastings Borough Council said the pier was in a "very dangerous state" and advised people to "stay well away".

Two men, aged 18 and 19 and from St Leonards, were arrested on suspicion of arson and remain in custody.

Campaigners fighting to save the derelict pier have vowed not to give up hope that what remains of it may still be salvaged.

Earlier this year, the council agreed to buy the pier with a compulsory purchase order and hand it to the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust.

Members of the trust have been in meetings with the council and emergency services to discuss carrying out a structural survey.

'Dangerous state'

Jess Steele, the trust's treasurer, said: "This tragedy has further galvanized public support for securing the future of this much-loved pier.

"If the survey shows that the substructure is reusable we will do our utmost to bring this great asset back to life."

Councillor Jeremy Birch, the council leader, said: "The firefighters have worked heroically to try and contain the blaze but unfortunately because of the wind, the state of the pier and the danger of going on it, the fire really took hold."

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Media captionFootage sent to the BBC shows the pier ablaze

A passing police patrol and local people raised the alarm at 0100 BST after seeing a small fire, but the pier was rapidly engulfed in flames.

A fire crew was on the scene within five minutes of the first emergency call.

It was quickly joined by further crews, two RNLI lifeboats and the Sussex Police helicopter.

At its height some 55 firefighters with eight engines were fighting to extinguish the fire, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said.

It was brought under control by 0800 BST. There were no reports of any injuries.

'Sense of sadness'

In a statement, the council said: "The pier remains in a very dangerous state and people are advised to stay well away from it as the risk of collapse is high.

"Under no circumstances should people attempt to gain access under the pier at this time."

The pier opened in 1872 and was originally 910ft (280m) long. It closed in 2006 because of fears it had become unsafe.

Image caption The pier had been closed since 2006 because of fears it was unsafe

It was owned by Panamanian-registered company Ravenclaw, which the council said it had been unable to contact.

Felix Robinson, outgoing chairman of the Hasting Pier and White Rock Trust, said it was a sad day for the town.

He said: "I always knew that the pier was at risk of fire, when it was closed and empty. But to actually see it go up in such a massive fire is very sad."

He said many people - some in their dressing gowns - had come out along the seafront and stood watching the blaze.

"There was a sense of sadness," he said. "People were talking about the experiences they'd had in the past - and of course the ballroom at the end, which is completely gutted, was quite important for Hastings in a cultural sense."

Campaigners have also been writing about their shock and disbelief on the Facebook page, Save Hastings Pier, which has more than 1,600 members.

Long traffic delays were reported around the area after the A259 was closed in both directions.

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