DETECTIVES investigating the fire that ripped through Eastbourne's historic pier are now treating the incident as suspicious.

More than 140 years of history was ripped away in less than an hour as flames reduced the 30 metre by 50 metre amusement arcade to a charred shell on Wednesday.

Initial reports were made of a small accidental fire in the wall panelling of the arcade rooms.

More than 80 firefighters responded to contain the blaze and protect as much of the Victorian structure as possible with crew in breathing apparatus fighting the flames from on the pier.

Lifeboat crews from Eastbourne, Hastings and Newhaven ably assisted the rescue mission but were hampered by a low tide.

Detective Inspector Mark O'Brien, of Sussex Police, said: "As a result of our investigation we have received information to suggest that the fire may have been started by someone, either deliberately or accidently, and our investigation is now focusing on that line of enquiry.

"A temporary scaffold platform has been erected adjacent to where the fire is thought to have broken out in order to enable scenes of crime officers and fire investigators safe access to the area.

"In the meantime, we are very keen to hear from anyone who has photographs or video taken at the entrance or actually on the pier in the hours before the fire started.

"If you have such material or indeed any other information about the incident, please email us at quoting Operation Barsham. Alternatively, you can call 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."

Superintendent Laurence Taylor said: "The area around and under the pier is still very hazardous and there is a security team deployed to stop people putting themselves in danger.

"I would ask that you assist them by not trying to get too close and I would especially ask parents to make sure that their children are aware of the dangers."