Probe into pub blaze

AN INVESTIGATION is under way into the cause of a blaze that destroyed a three-storey pub in the early hours of yesterday.Police and fire crews were combing the Victoria Hotel in Harwich yesterday for clues as to what sparked the fire which started at around 1.

AN INVESTIGATION is under way into the cause of a blaze that destroyed a three-storey pub in the early hours of yesterday.

Police and fire crews were combing the Victoria Hotel in Harwich yesterday for clues as to what sparked the fire which started at around 1.45am.

Neighbours who were evacuated from their homes in Victoria Street said they were awoken by the sound of fireworks minutes before the fire.

One said a group of teenagers ran down the street, which is near to Dovercourt railway station, banging on doors to alert residents of the blaze.

Firefighters spent more than four hours tackling the flames which spread quickly from a downstairs room to the top of the building.

At one stage the 1861 pub – once a typical, grand-looking railway hotel – was in danger of collapsing, forcing firefighters from Dovercourt, Colchester and Manningtree to retreat.

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No one was inside the pub which was locked up for the night at 7pm on Wednesday and which lately had been open only rarely.

Occupants of around 10 houses backing onto the building were evacuated as a precaution, including Lucie Richardson, who said: “I was woken by people banging at the door - it was all pretty scary. There were loads of people on the street just watching.

“We didn't know what was going to happen and whether the fire would spread.”

Nicola Garrard, 22, said: “We heard a load of fireworks going off and about 20 minutes later we heard some teenagers saying there was a fire and they were going up to all the houses knocking on doors to warn people.

“I looked at the building and the flames were huge. They were blue and coming out of the top of the pub – it looked like a giant gas burner.”

Senior fire officers said they were treating the blaze as suspicious.

Colchester Station Officer Graham Sellears, in charge of the early hours operation, said the fire was well alight by the time crews arrived.

“We were concerned that there could have been people inside, but quite early on we realised that was not the case.

“Only the ground floor of the building was in use. We're trying to contact the owner, but it had been locked up at 7pm the night before by the manager who lives opposite.

“We are currently treating the cause as suspicious.”

An Essex Police spokesman said they were also involved in the joint investigation.

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