AN EXPLOSION was heard before a Victorian seafront hotel was "engulfed" in flames, according to shocked eye-witnesses.

The devastating blaze started at about 8.50am and has destroyed much of Eastbourne's Grade II listed Claremont.

Around 60 firefighters and 12 fire engines tackled the blaze at its peak, with crews forced to pump water from the sea.

The inferno started in the basement of the hotel and spread through to the upper floors.

All the guests were evacuated from the 150-room hotel, as well as from The Pier Hotel next door.


The ambulance service said six patients were treated for minor injuries and one was hospitalised with breathing difficulties.

Eastbourne Pier near the hotel was destroyed in a fire five years ago.

Dad-of-two Matt Zalman first spotted the smoke at around 9am after dropping his daughter off at school.

The Argus:

He later drove around the hotel filming the blaze before speaking to firefighters and the hotel guests.

At 11am he heard a "really loud bang."

Matt, of Eastbourne, said: "It must have been an explosion based on the sound. It was a really loud bang."

The sales assistant went to join evacuated guests who were being given food and drink at Eastbourne Town Hall.

He added: "I spoke to one elderly couple who were evacuated from the top floor. They were really upset. They had to leave their spare clothes and mobile phones behind.

"I offered to take them for coffee, but they were too upset. Their eyes were welling up."

He drove passed the hotel yesterday morning (Thur) as holidaymakers arrived in the coachloads.

He added: "Two coaches pulled up at the hotel full of guests. It was really busy.

"We lost the pier in 2014 and now this, yet another fire incident in Eastbourne."

Ambulance crews and police also attended the scene.

George Brown,group managing director of Daish's Holidays which owns the Victorian hotel, said: "We have already arranged for return travel home today for all the guests who were staying at the hotel.

"Guests who were due to check into the hotel in the near future have been contacted by Daish's Holidays, and we are in the process of informing guests who have hotel bookings over the coming days, weeks and months, to assist them with alternative arrangements."

He added: "It is clear that this fire has caused significant damage to the Claremont Hotel, a Grade II Listed building which is not only one of our most popular hotels, but also a prominent and historic Eastbourne landmark.

"We are devastated at the loss of the hotel and will be working tirelessly to support everyone affected by the damage, including current and future guests, employees and local residents.

"We would like to thank the emergency services, the local community and businesses for their support at this difficult time, in particular the Pier Hotel, Afton Hotel and Queens Hotel, who kindly took in our guests and supported our team with looking after our guests."

Daish's Holidays owns and manages 10 hotels around the UK and was celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Brian Cumming, a Communications Officer at South East Coast Ambulance Service, said: "At 09.03 today we sent two ambulances, two response vehicles and our HART, Hazardous Area Response Team, to a major fire at The Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne.

"Six patients have been treated for minor injuries with one taken to Eastbourne Hospital with breathing difficulties."

The fire service confirmed the fire was finally under control just before 2.30pm, more than five hours after the blaze began.

An East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: "We are now scaling back the operation.

"Everyone was evacuated safely, thanks to the actions of hotel staff. Utility companies and Eastbourne Borough Council have also been assisting."

Incident Commander and Assistant Chief Fire Officer Mark Andrews added: "The fire spread from the basement through to the upper floors.

"The wind also caused some additional challenges and we needed to take water from the sea.

"We will now work to ensure that the fire is completely put out. This will take several hours and so the roads in the area are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues from other agencies who have helped us deal with this complex incident.

"The building has been seriously damaged and will need to be examined by building experts before a decision is made about its future.

"The cause of the fire will be investigated."