Fire crews battle huge blaze at Southport's Pleasureland

THICK smoke billowed over Southport last night as one of the town’s most historic fairground rides went up in flames.

The River Caves – which date back to the 1920s and are no longer in use – were destroyed in what is suspected to be the third arson attack since the former Pleasureland theme park reopened in July 2007.

A total of 10 fire crews battled to contain the huge fire, which broke out at 7.45pm.

Firefighters were still dousing the flames at 10.30pm and were expected to remain on site for several hours.

Traffic was closed along the Coastal Road between the pier and the funfair as police cordoned off the area.

And hordes of onlookers gathered on the Southport sea wall to witness the blaze, which was visible from Blackpool and across the Ribble Estuary.

Norman Wallis managing director of Dreamstorm, the company behind New Pleasureland, said the damage was likely to run into “tens of thousands of pounds”.

Fire chiefs are still to determine the cause of the blaze, but have not ruled out deliberate ignition.

But Mr Wallis was quick to point the finger at arsonists.

He said: “This is the third arson since we’ve opened. First, there was the zoo, then Casablancas [a bar and restaurant] and now the River Caves.

“I’m lost for words. All the work that we’ve put in to provide a fairground in Southport and it’s being destroyed by vandals. The weather over the last few days has been the best since we opened and now this happens. We don’t get any trouble when we are open, but as soon as the place closes all the bad boys break in. I’m gutted.”

Southport resident Dave Thackeray, 34, said: “The River Caves was one of my most-loved rides as a child. I had my first kiss there when I was 14. If it is arson, then I haven’t seen destruction on this scale in Southport for many years.”

The River Caves operated as part of the Pleasureland funfair which was closed in 2006.

The site was sold to Sefton Council in 2007 for £7.25m, with Dreamstorm granted a licence to run a temporary attraction on the site.

The site is to undergo an £80m overhaul as part of the town’s seafront redevelopment by 2014.