Huge fire destroys Britain's 'peerless pier'
A major fire destroyed a 138-year-old pier in the British resort of Hastings on Tuesday, emergency services said, robbing the country of one of the last relics of its Victorian-era seaside culture.
Police in the faded southern English tourist resort arrested two men on suspicion of arson after the blaze at the wood and iron structure, which had been closed since 2006.
"At the moment about 95 percent of the structure has been destroyed. It's quite significant," said Simon Rose, a spokesman for the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.
"It's a very historic building and landmark for Hastings. The priority for the firefighters is to preserve as much of the structure as they can to see if something can be done with it in the future."
Thick smoke billowed over the pier hours after the blaze which broke out around 1:00 am (0000 GMT). Video footage showed orange flames engulfing the platform and lighting up the night sky.
"Two men have been arrested on suspicion of arson after Hastings Pier was reported to be on fire," a Sussex police spokesman said, adding that they were aged 18 and 19.
Residents in Hastings had launched a major campaign to restore the town's pier, which was described as the "peerless pier" when it first opened in 1874 at the height of the Victorian vogue for seaside holidays.
In the 1960s it hosted concerts by rockers including The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd and until its closure four years ago it featured a mix of funfair rides and slot machines as well as a ballroom.
The pier is currently owned by a Panamanian-registered company but the local council in Hastings -- now one of Britain's most deprived areas -- was trying to buy it back.
"It was the heart of the town, I'm totally gutted. I've lived here all my life and used to go on the penny slot machines on there when I was a kid," said local resident Tim Hall.
The fire is the latest in a series at Britain's historic piers.
In July 2008, the pier at Weston-super-Mare, southwest England, was destroyed by a blaze and a pier at Southend-on-Sea in southeastern England suffered major damage in 2005 in another fire.
The West Pier in Brighton, near Hastings, suffered two major blazes in 2003 after parts of it had already collapsed into the sea.
© 2010 AFP