Historic building destroyed by blaze

HUNDREDS of people watched in amazement as a fierce blaze ripped through an historic seafront building.More than 40 firefighters were called to the Herman de Stern building on Orford Road, Felixstowe, at around 2pm yesterday as flames took hold of the first floor and roof.

HUNDREDS of people watched in amazement as a fierce blaze ripped through an historic seafront building.

More than 40 firefighters were called to the Herman de Stern building on Orford Road, Felixstowe, at around 2pm yesterday as flames took hold of the first floor and roof.

The blaze sent huge plumes of smoke billowing into the air, while the former convalescent home, theatre and community centre was also said to be in danger of collapse.

Last night, fire chiefs said they could not rule out arson as the cause. And Suffolk Coastal District Council also revealed there had been problems with groups of youngsters congregating in the building on Saturday.


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Paul Seager, assistant divisional officer for Suffolk Fire Service, said: "It's too early to be completely definite on how it started. And at this point we cannot rule anything out.

"The building is derelict and over the years there have been a number of incidents that have been started by youths breaking in and creating small fires but this is just one of many angles that we will be looking in to.

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"We will be carrying out a full investigation and it would obviously be greatly appreciated if anyone who has information could contact Suffolk police to help us with our enquiries."

The Herman de Stern building, owned by Suffolk Coastal council since 1979, is a well-known landmark on the Felixstowe seafront.

It was built in 1902 by the London Hospital Board, which had been left money by wealthy doctor Herman de Stern to set up a convalescent home for people from the Capital, although it later took in local residents.

In the early 1980s it became the home of the West End Community Centre, and then became a gym and club eight years ago. Stagedoor theatrical group also used the downstairs area as a small theatre.

But for the last three or four years it has been derelict and remained boarded up and there are now plans to demolish the building as part of Felixstowe south seafront's multi-million pound regeneration.

Two fire appliances from Felixstowe, four from Ipswich, the turntable ladder from Bury St Edmunds, an operational support unit, a control unit and two ambulances attended yesterday's fire.

Mr Seager said he expected firefighters to be at the scene until late last night .

He said: "The building is badly damaged and is now unstable. We have lost most of the roof and some of structure that extra supports it so we have to be careful. We have building control from the district council coming down to take a look.

"I imagine we will be here overnight. We will scale down the number of pumps however we will maintain a presence just to keep and eye on things and make sure nothing else happens.

"As far as I am aware no one was hurt from the incident. The ambulances simply came along as a precaution."

Former mayor of Felixstowe Doreen Savage said it was a "very sad" end for the historic building.

"Although I am all for the new plans for the seafront, which would have seen the building demolished, I really think it is an unclean and undignified end," she said.

"I am sure there will be a lot of people in the town who will take the view that it will be missed. It really is a very sad end to its life."

Last night, Suffolk Coastal council released a statement detailing problems there had been at the site over the weekend.

It said: "On Saturday afternoon, local police were called out three times, initially after a group of youths were seen inside the building. A broken window had been boarded up earlier in the week following a break-in.

"Saturday's incident started around 3pm when youngsters were spotted throwing objects out of the windows. A Suffolk Coastal Services Ltd worker who attempted to board up the building after the first police visit had to call them back after he was continually threatened by the youngsters.

"Initially, there appeared to be up to six 11-16 year olds involved, but by the third time that the police were called to the scene there was thought to be up to 20 youngsters. There are reports that the police arrested three people.

"At this stage, it is clearly impossible to know whether today's blaze had any connection with yesterday's incidents as investigations have not yet been concluded as to the cause of the blaze."

He said the building was now unsafe and has been cordoned off by the emergency services. Contractors will be on site today fencing it off and experts will be called in to assess the state of the building.

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