by JAMES CAREY
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
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