Photos: Holiday crows watch in horror as Eastbourne pier is engulfed in flames
- Credit: Archant
More than 140 years of history went up in flames as a devastating fire ripped through part of Eastbourne Pier.
Stacks of dense smoke belched into the sky after the fire started towards the entrance of the 144-year-old, Grade II*-listed structure.
It began on the part of the pier housing amusement arcade attractions and came at the height of the summer tourist season for the East Sussex resort.
Sussex Police said the pier was quickly evacuated, no one was trapped and the fire was not believed to be suspicious.
Up to 60 firefighters tackled the fire from the coast, the beach and from underneath the Victorian structure, which is privately-owned by Cuerden Leisure.
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The sea-end section of the pier appeared to be unaffected by the fire, but there were fears that stiff sea breezes were fanning the flames.
Tourists and locals thronged the beach and promenade to watch the pier gradually become engulfed in flames from around 3pm.
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Although the area was busy at the time, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said they were not aware of any injuries or casualties.
Tourist Sam Taylor, 54, said: 'I just can't believe it. I've been coming here for years and to see it go up in smoke while I'm here is devastating.
'It's a beautiful pier. We had only been on it the other day to play on the amusements and take in the views.'
In a fortnight's time, Eastbourne hosts its biggest tourist event, the annual Airbourne air show on the seafront, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.
Debbie Leach, 46, watched from the beach as the flames engulfed the attraction. She said: 'I'm really sad, I could cry.'
Local community leaders were praying that the pier could be salvaged. Eastbourne's Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd said: 'I hope and pray that our wonderful pier has not been lost forever.
'I know that all of Eastbourne are now watching and waiting until the fire is put out so the damage can be assessed.'
Carolyn Heaps, cabinet member for tourism at Eastbourne Borough Council, said: 'Our first concern is for the safety of all those who work on the pier and those who were visiting the pier today.'
Architect Tim Phillips, vice-chairman of the National Piers Society, said: 'My gut feeling with these fires is it is always an electrical problem – something shorts and flashes in a flammable void.
'They are so exposed to the elements, and you've got an intensely damp atmosphere.'
Tim Wardley, chairman of the National Piers Society, said: 'When you have something that is made of wood, the risk of fire is always going to be sadly that much greater.
'Piers are at risk of being chopped in half by an errant boat, or suffering fire damage – they are constantly under onslaught from Mother Nature.
'That's a testament to the 61 which survive proudly after withstanding that onslaught over the last two centuries.'
Eastbourne Pier has a large number of attractions, including an arcade, café bar, tea rooms and Atlantis nightclub.
Sussex Police said: 'It has been confirmed that the pier was safely and quickly evacuated and there was no one trapped by the fire when it broke out. The fire is not believed to be suspicious at this time.'
The RNLI said that lifeboats from Eastbourne, Hastings and Newhaven were also sent to the pier to help firefighters tackle the fire.