& opinion


Thousands of Brightonians gazed in disbelief on Tuesday night as they watched one of the city’s main attractions being ravished by a blazing inferno.

Just weeks after a substantial section of Brighton’s West Pier collapsed, the end of the 103 year-old Palace Pier bellowed flames up to fifty feet high for two hours. It took sixty fire-fighters to extinguish the blaze.

The fire started at 7:20, when all visitors and staff were evacuated, mainly from the numerous bars and casinos. Fortunately there were no reported injuries. A local resident heard an explosion at 19:23 and promptly alerted the fire brigade. The Ghost Train and the area around it were completely destroyed. According to experts, the Pier did not appear to have suffered any structural damage.

Fire engines travelled from the East and West Sussex brigades including Brighton’s Preston Circus, Hove, Shoreham, Lewes, Rodean and Seaford to assist.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Len Richards believes that there would have been considerably more fire damage had the fire brigade been on strike. He did not feel the Army’s Green Goddesses could have quenched the fire as effectively as the fire brigade. He speculated with concern "the army does not have the same technology as the fire brigade, and could not have extinguished the fire as quickly as us. think that there may have been more damage if they had handled it." He proceeded to inform journalists that was a very severe fire.

The repair operation is expected to take in excess of three weeks. According to the Pier’s Public Relations Officer, Clare Wudger, the cost of repair is expected to be considerable. Amongst the damaged rides are the Log Flume, the Mini Bumper Boats and the Mini Dodg’ems. Employees, including several Sussex University students, were not able to return to work until the Pier was declared absolutely safe.

This is the first major disaster since the pier was hit by an explosion and fire in August 1995, when a blast ripped through an electricity sub-station below the decking at the far end of the pier.

Several safety questions have arisen due to the fire. Two Sussex University students who witnessed the incident raised concern as to what could have happened had the fire occurred during the day, when the pier was at its busiest.

Eye-witness William Jones commented, "It was fortunate that the fire was confined to the end. It might have been catastrophic had the blaze initiated in the middle, as visitors would have been trapped on the sea end."

Whatever the cause turns out to be, the importance of both piers in Brighton has been highlighted in recent weeks.. The entire community gathered and gazed at one of the south coast’s main attractions being saved from destruction. People who turned out to view the spectacular event were united in their passion for the pier, and breathed a unanimous sigh of relief upon seeing signs of the fire halting. When under attack, the pier demonstrated its unique ability to bring people together.
Photos by James Coldrey