A HUGE blaze at a former nightclub is not linked to riots in other parts of the country, police say.
The fire at the old Joanna’s nightclub in South Parade, Southsea – opposite South Parade Pier – caused a power cut to about 500 homes in the area.
A sub-station in South Parade was damaged after part of the burning building collapsed onto it.
By 1am Southern Electric had managed to restore power to 400 homes, but it is thought around 10 to 20 homes will have to wait until midday before being connected.
Justyn Smith, spokesman for Southern Electric, said: ‘The issue we have got is our sub-station is in the exclusion zone that has been put up by the fire brigade.
‘The sub-station is where engineers would repair or re-route connections.
‘We anticipate this will be up until midday Wednesday, and until then some homes will be without power.
‘We apologise to customers, but hopefully they understand about the fire and that we are working as quickly as possible to restore power.’
A full investigation will be carried out but police say initial inquiries ‘do not point to arson.’
Officers were called at 5.35pm and firefighters were still tackling the blaze at 8pm.
At about 7.45pm a section of the roof collapsed as the fire continued to spread – and smoke could be seen for miles.
About 200 people gathered to watch the blaze.
Eastern Area Chief Inspector Ali Heydari, said: ‘It’s understandable that given the civil unrest in London, residents here may be concerned that this fire is a result of impending disorder in Portsmouth.
‘I think it’s important that we clarify that while the cause of the fire is being investigated, initial inquiries do not point to arson.
‘There is absolutely nothing to suggest this is linked to threats of disorder in Portsmouth.’
Portsmouth City Council set up an emergency rest centre in Southsea and it is understood that guests at the nearby Royal Beach Hotel in St Helens Parade, were evacuated as a precaution.
Moments after the fire started eyewitness Richard Morgan, 33, from Wimborne Road, Southsea, said: ‘The whole of the road and pier is obscured by thick smoke. There’s smoke coming from the top of one the buildings opposite the pier. There’s one fire engine with the crane extended but you literally can’t see anything.
‘The police have moved people back and blocked off the road with police tape on both sides.
‘And ambulance has turned up and police are shouting at people who are trying to walk along the seafront to move away.’
Matt Hetherington, 23, lives in a third-floor flat in Clarendon Road, Southsea, near the blaze. He said: ‘We just heard the sirens. I was a bit worried about it but I didn’t think it would be too much to do with the riots.
‘We went downstairs and there was smoke billowing out from the flats above the building. Within seconds the fire brigade were there.
‘At the time it was really bad. We are fine here. It was just a bit close to home – it’s the biggest fire I’ve ever seen.’
Leonie Tremain, 26, a repairs co-ordinator of Britannia Road, Southsea, said: ‘I was shopping after work and saw lots of people staring at the smoke cloud and when I looked I saw it was the old nightclub building. I was absolutely stunned so see it was on fire - it’s part of the memories of our youth.’
Susanne Bowles a retired factory worker of Alexandra Court in South Parade, said: ‘I looked out of my back window and was shocked to see the building on fire. It’s been standing empty for a long time. It’s unfortunate this has happened. I hope there’s no-one inside such as squatters.’
City councillor Donna Jones, deputy Tory group leader and planning committee member, said: ‘It’s a tragic loss of a very old building in Portsmouth. My thoughts are for residents who live in the immediate vicinity and I hope that the police and fire [service] investigating officers are able to get to the bottom of why it started.’
Witnesses should call Hampshire Constabulary on 101 or 0845 0454545