Fire at historic pier

A sharp-eyed passer-by saved a 155-year-old Victorian pier from potential disaster this weekend when he spotted a small plume of smoke coming from the roof.

A sharp-eyed passer-by saved a 155-year-old Victorian pier from potential disaster this weekend when he spotted a small plume of smoke coming from the roof.

He saw the smoke coming from Yarmouth's Wellington Pier early on Saturday, and his call gave fire crews enough warning to stop the flames from spreading along the 700ft wooden structure.

The pier's lucky escape from a suspected arson attack comes just a month after Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier was engulfed by fire.

The pavilion on the grade I-listed pier on the Somerset coast, built in 1904, was destroyed within two hours by a fire which is believed to have started in a chip frier.

Yarmouth fire station manager John Kiernan said that without the early call from a concerned member of the public, the blaze on Saturday could have been much worse.

Four fire crews were called to the pier on Marine Parade just after 6.15am and had put out the fire within an hour.

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Mr Kiernan said: “A member of the public who was cutting some grass nearby called to report that there was smoke coming from the pier.

“Due to the nature of the building we sent four appliances straight out to attend. When they arrived, the crews found a small fire on a flat roof area and were able to put it out.

“We are full of praise for the member of the public for being so vigilant and for making the call. It certainly saved us vital minutes and what ended up being a small fire could have been much, much worse.”

He said that evidence was found to suggest the fire was started deliberately. “We suspect that a member of the public or persons unknown to us gained access to the roof area, gathered waste material near an air-conditioning duct and set fire to it in the hope the rest of the building would catch fire.”

Wellington Pier was only the seventh to be built in the country and opened in 1853, costing £6,776 to build. It was bought by the Great Yarmouth Corporation in 1899 and the pavilion opened in July 1903.

The structure underwent a major £1.75m facelift after the 2003 summer season, which included a redeveloped frontage with shops, a booking office and a 20,000sq ft family entertainment centre.

The pier, which is the town's oldest, was taken over by comedian and television host Jim Davidson on a 99-year lease in April 1996 but was sold on after just five years following disputes with the council over subsidies.

It has been owned by Felixstowe-based company Family Amusements, which also runs the Britannia Pier and Winter Gardens in Yarmouth and Pettitts animal adventure park in Reedham, since 2001.

No one from Family Amusements was available to comment on the fire at the weekend. The cause of the fire is being investigated by police.