Gallery: Fire wrecks 200-year-old pub

INVESTIGATORS are trying to establish the cause of a fire which ripped through a derelict 200-year-old pub in Essex.

INVESTIGATORS are today trying to establish the cause of a fire which ripped through a derelict 200-year-old pub in Essex.

Four teams of firefighters tackled the inferno, which left The Bell pub in Fingringhoe Road, Colchester, on the verge of collapse.

The blaze, which broke out at around 4pm yesterday, tore through the roof, causing part of it to cave in, and set light to more than half of the first floor.

There were reports of explosions before the blaze took hold.

A building surveyor was called in to assess the ongoing damage amid fears the building could collapse.

As neighbouring residents watched the building go up in flames, many expressed their sadness at the pub's demise.

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Dave Smith, chairman of Old Heath Residents Association, said the pub - which is around 200 years old - had been empty for between 18 months and two years.

He said: “It's bad. The smoke was everywhere. It was thick and black. I went down and had a look earlier and it's not good at all.

“It's the only pub around here and they were waiting for a new tenant.”

Paul Wright, who was a landlord at the pub until shortly before it closed, said the fire had destroyed the last community building left on the estate.

Mr Wright, 45, of nearby Foresight Road, said: “I am really sorry to see it go. There is nothing for the estate now. It will be sorely missed.”

Mark Taylor-Bond, 22, also of Foresight Road, said: “The pub had squatters in it until about two months ago.

“Ever since they left, youths have been vandalising it and the pub has been stripped of its copper.”

Of the fire, he said: “I saw a big cloud of smoke then I heard sirens. A couple of people I spoke to outside the pub said they heard explosions.”

Another resident who lives nearby added: “I think the pub has been empty for about a year and has been used as a squat in more recent times, with windows smashed and graffiti outside.

“I am not sure if anyone is squatting there at the moment though.

“There is a lot of smoke and it looks quite gutted at the back and you can see all the timbers.”

Firefighters, including a crew from Nayland in Suffolk, surrounded the building and used two jets and a turntable ladder to quell the flames, but much of the property was ruined.

Sub officer Darren Holliday, of Essex Fire and Rescue Service, said: “When crews arrived, the building was well alight and the entire roof was ablaze. We used an aerial ladder platform as a water tower and two monitors.

“The structure of the building seems to be unsafe and there is a danger it could collapse.”

The fire service drafted in the help of the police, who threw up a road block and monitored the area.

The road was closed to traffic and diversions were put in place.

The blaze was brought under control at around 7pm, but firefighters were expected to remain at the scene for several hours to damp down hot spots and make sure the fire did not re-ignite.

The fire service said it would investigate the cause of the blaze.