A HOTEL was evacuated as fire services attended a major "chemical incident" on the seafront.

Six fire engines rushed to the Harbour Hotel in King's Road, Brighton today after reports of a gas alarm sounding at about 12.30pm.

The hotel was evacuated and guests stood outside for more than four hours as fire crews and police investigated the scene.

A fire service spokesman described the incident as a "suspected gas leak" and said that "crews were investigating but had not yet come to any conclusion on the cause".

Witnesses watched as firefighters changing into protective suits and full-body masks outside the hotel.

The area was cordoned off while the problem was dealt with.

The Argus:

Sean Thacker saw the incident and said: "I have spoken to some people on the site.

"I think it was a chlorine leak from the swimming pool."

A passer-by said: "It must be a chemical incident because the crew are putting on that protective gear. 

"They have the rubber gloves, masks and everything. 

"It's almost certainly some kind of gas leak or a dangerous chemical that has leaked."

The Argus:
Traffic was almost pulled to a standstill as cars were diverted up and around King's road via West and North Street. 

Another witness said: "There are a lot of firemen here and even the ambulance. 

"I just hope it's not as serious as it looks. 

"The firemen have major gear with them so it looks pretty bad."

There were severe delays in the area after the road was blocked off.

Driver Luke Soar, 45, was stuck in queuing traffic as police guided cars past the incident. 

He said: "It's a bit stop start but we are moving, just. 

"I am not sure what's happened but there are a lot of fire engines.

"Traffic has been moving slow and there was just another fire engine that came by. 

"It's a pretty muggy day to be stuck in Brighton centre."

The Argus:

A fire service spokesman warned motorists and pedestrians to avoid Brighton seafront from Madeira Drive to West Street.

He said: "Please stay away from this area, due to an ongoing incident.

"Six appliances were mobilised to a hotel in King’s Road, following reports of smoke and a gas alarm sounding at 12.30.

"There are no reports of any casualties.

"Crews are currently investigating the cause and while this is being carried, a section of the road along the seafront has been closed, causing congestion.

"Drivers are being urged to stay away from the area and to use an alternative route."

At 3pm the operation was scaled down but fire services said investigations were continuing.

At 4.35pm crews left the scene but police remained at the hotel.

A Sussex Police spokesman said they had assisted the fire brigade by directing traffic and making sure the cordon was in place.

A spokeswoman for Brighton Harbour Hotel said: "A staff member from the hotel called the fire services earlier today, following a report that the hotel’s fire alarm system had been activated.

"The fire services attended the site to investigate further, with the decision made to shut off the road while they do so. 

"All safety checks have now been carried out and the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service have confirmed that it is safe to re-open; with the full hotel having been handed back at 16:35 today.

"It has now returned to normal service."