Published: 17:57, 07 April 2008 |
Updated: 17:12, 08 April 2008
Kent Police have confirmed a fire that seriously damaged Margate’s historic scenic railway is being treated as a possible case of arson.
Samples have been sent off for analysis following work by specialist police and fire teams.
A police spokeswoman said: "It is believed this fire was started deliberately."
Detectives are appealing for witnesses and anyone with any information is asked to contact them at Margate Police Station on 01843 222076 or Kent Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
The iconic historic wooden structure went up in flames just before 5pm on Monday and by 5.30pm the wooden rollercoaster’s drop collapsed.
Hundreds of people crowded around the disused fairground in the centre of Margate to watch as the historic ride - which was built in 1920 and was Grade II listed - gave way to the flames.
More than 60 firefighters from across the county attended the scene and at one point fire officers had to ask the water board to increase the water pressure as they struggled to get the fire under control.
A thick plume of black smoke and ash drifted over Margate and the fire was visible from as far away as Birchington.
Kent Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Chris Newberry said: "About 40 per cent of the structure has collapsed but we have managed to save the rest of the Scenic Railway.
"We are keeping an eye on a small section which is in slight danger of collapse, but the rest of the structure appears to be stable."
The main section of the structure and the train shed was the most badly damaged, and the railway cars have also been lost.
The Scenic Railway has not been in use for two years, but it was hoped that it would eventually reopen to boost tourism.
The ride was to have formed the central plank of all the regeneration plans for the Dreamland site.
As he watched the smoke billowing 60ft into the air over the town, Thanet council leader Sandy Ezekiel refused to accept that it was a funeral pyre for the hopes and dreams of the town’s seaside regeneration plan.
He said: "This is not the end of the road for Dreamland. And neither have we seen the last of the Scenic Railway. I sincerely hope that it can be repaired and if this is viable, it will be done.
"In common with everyone who has worked so hard to rebuild Margate’s tourist industry, I am devastated by what has happened."
The Margate scenic railway is believed to be the third oldest example of this kind of rollercoaster left in the world after Melbourne, Australia (1912) and Copehagen, Denmark (1914).
Local councillor and former Margate mayor Mick Tomlinson said he was “devastated” by the fire.
He said: “It is unbelievable. Just when we start something new in Margate, we lose something else. When I saw all the smoke billowing up and realised it was the Scenic Railway, I was devastated.
“I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, like many of the others who watched the fire take hold.
“It is very sad for Margate, especially with the summer season so close.”
He added: “I am positive that the ride must be rebuilt, and let’s just hope it is back up and running again soon.”
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