Within the last two hours, members of the public have been reporting a ‘large and out of control fire’ on Southend Pier – the first call to the emergency services was made shortly after 8.30pm this evening. 

According to witnesses, the blaze at the sea end of the pier escalated rapidly, and a number of fire engines were spotted at the scene by 8.50pm. 

After efforts were made to extinguish the blaze, everything was put out by 9.30pm, and a spokesperson for the Southend Pier Federation confirmed that the incident had been a ‘planned contingency exercise.’

Reginald Pilchard of the SPF said: ‘Plans have been in place for the last few months to ensure that Southend Pier can withstand a major fire in the future.’

‘We have recently coated the entire sea end of the pier in a specially-designed varnish that resists heat, and this coating was finished yesterday as originally scheduled.’

‘We decided that today would be the most appropriate time to test the new varnish as it is the 40th anniversary of the devastating 1976 fire, and so at 8.25pm we put plastic incendiary trails over the decking and set fire to it.’

‘The resulting inferno expanded quickly as expected, and a number of fire crews attended the scene and put it all out. We have checked the area and there is absolutely no damage whatsoever – we’re delighted!’

A spokesperson for Southend Council confirmed that the test event was ‘fantastic news.’

Head of Alternative Tourism Kum Zee-It said: ‘The test was vital from a safety perspective, and from a tourism perspective the inferno drew a fantastic crowd – the temporary increase in visitor footfall was extraordinary.’

‘We may turn the fire into a weekly event during the summer months as the centrepiece of Saturday Night Fireworks on the seafront.’

‘Now we know that the varnish is safe, we could even develop a schedule of Southend landmarks to ignite. It will all be very artistic and popular, until we decide that the Health and Safety costs are astronomical.’