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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
July 31, 2014


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A Heartbreaking History of Victorian Pier Fires

Eastbourne pier

Courtesy of @pauljwpb on Twitter

The fire that gutted Eastbourne pier’s Grade II listed Victorian dome is the latest in a litany of blazes on seaside piers down the years.

From the 1976 blaze on Southend Pier to the 2010 Hastings fire, below are documented five fires that have destroyed well over a century’s of history’s in a few short hours.

Eastbourne pier itself has stood for some 144 years.

The 60 firefighters tackling the blaze from around 3pm quickly swelled to 80 as the situation deteriorated. Firefighters doused the pier from lifeboats, while an aerial platform was used as a water tower to prevent the fire from spreading.

The evacuation was successful and no one was injured. Arson is not suspected at this time.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Services believe Wednesday’s fire started in a wall panel of a games arcade machine.

Heartbroken Eastbourne residents and regular visitors can at least be thankful that firefighters rescued much of the pier even if its most recognisable structure was gutted.

That’s more than can be said for many other pier fires. As Des Prichard, chief fire officer of East Sussex Fire and Rescue, said: “Pier fires are notoriously difficult to fight because there is one way on and one way off – and the tide can caused additional problems.”

West pier

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Brighton West Pier, 2003

Opened in 1866 Brighton’s west pier survived more than a century before being closed over safety concerns in 1975. When a fire broke out in March 2003 firefighters were unable to reach the blaze due to a collapsed walkway caused by a storm four months before.

Just two months later the pier was ablaze again, destroying most remnants of the concert hall. Unable to access the site for safety reasons investigators failed to identify the cause of the blaze, although arson was suspected.

The storms of February 2014 ruptured the pier, a large chunk of which fell into the seas. Isolated, blackened and skeletal the structure now cuts a ghostly, eerie structure adrift from the shore.

Grand pier

Courtesy of Ron Walker

Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare, 2008

An alarm company was found to be negligent by a court over the fire that effectively destroyed the Grand Pier in 2008.

Although the fire alarm went off at 1:35am after a blaze started in an area containing deep fat fryers, the fire brigade was not alerted until nearly 7:00am.

System 2 Security subcontracted the monitoring of fire alarms to Yeoman Monitoring Ltd, which reached an out-of-court settlement with the pier owners.

The presiding judge said the first breach was a failure to insist that the pier owners provide the name and contact details of more than one key holder.

The second was in failing to warn the new owners that the fire alarm system had been subjected to filtering while a previous fault was fixed.

The judge noted that it was “more probable that S2S had forgotten to reverse the filtering instruction after the alarm had been repaired”.

The pier, which was first opened in 1904, was rebuilt and reopened in October 2010.

hastings pier

Photo: Jarlhelm on Wikimedia Commons under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Hastings Pier, 2010 

Hastings pier was effectively destroyed – 95% of the upper structure no less – just days after architects had been invited to submit designs for redevelopment.

Opened in 1872 the pier had been closed since 2006 because of fears it was unsafe.

Two teenagers were arrested for arson although charges were never brought.

Footage of the blaze, which showed the pier engulfed in flames several metres high, can be seen on YouTube.


Southend pierSouthend pier fire, 1976

Blamed on a dropped cigarette the 1976 Southend pier fire spread quickly.

Special pumps were brought in because firefighters were hampered by the low pressure of the pier’s water main.

Remarkably a agricultural aviation expert, Ladislav “Ladi” Mormol, dive-bombed the pier with his crop-spraying aircraft, dumping 400 gallons of water at a time.

Also remarkably, two firefighters were injured jumping from a building to escape the ‘rife range’ bullets that were spontaneously firing in the heat. One broke his ankle the other received burns when the main ammunition store exploded.

Eleven fire engines and more than 100 fire fighters took four hours to bring the blaze under control. 

Bognore promenade

Bognor Regis Pier, 1974

Opened in 1865 the pier in Bognor Regis is the oldest of the piers mentioned here (the UK’s oldest can be found in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight)

It survived two fires in three months in 1974 and in August 2011 a fire in a storage unit at the end of the pier caused thousand pounds worth of damage.

In 1999 part of the pier was lost to the sea and in 2008 an 80ft section was removed for safety reasons – gallingly for owners who had recently plunged £50,000 into renovations.

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