WEDNESDAY marked 44 years since an inferno ripped through Southend Pier.

On July 29, 1976, flames engulfed the pier and smoke billowed into the sky, causing £1million of damage.

Hundreds of shocked visitors were forced to flee the scene by boat and train.

Thankfully, those who were on the world’s longest pleasure pier when the blaze broke out were able to escape to safety.

Basildon Standard:

Catastrophe - hundreds of people fled from the scene as the four-hour inferno caused an estimated £1million worth of damage

Strong winds also fanned the flames as the dramatic fire was watched by thousands of holiday-makers on beaches on both sides of the estuary.

Firemen tackled the blaze from tug boats and the pier itself.

Basildon Standard:

Destroyed - the fire lasted four hours

Two firemen were injured as they attempted to put out the inferno and it remains a mystery as to how the fire began.

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Basildon Standard:

Awful scenes - smoke billows into the south Essex sky

Initial reports suggested the blaze, which lasted four hours, started near a restaurant.

The next day, the Evening Echo reported: “The cause of the blaze may never be known.”

Basildon Standard:

Concern - residents gather along the seafront to witness the fire

Another fire broke out in the pier’s bowling alley a year later, while the railway was forced to close for safety reasons in 1978.

After a lengthy campaign, the pier was restored in 1984 and a new railway followed.