My Irreplaceable Treasures of Art; Saatchi's Agony over Collection Lost in Fire

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CHARLES SAATCHI was ' devastated' last night after revealing that 100 of his treasured works of modern art were destroyed in a warehouse fire.

The collection was worth tens of millions of pounds and included two of Tracey Emin's best-known pieces and Jake and Dinos Chapman's [pounds sterling]500,000 work Hell.

Damien Hirst lost 16 paintings in the blaze and last night questions were asked about the wisdom of storing valuable artwork on an East London industrial estate.

Mr Saatchi was one of many customers who had costly pieces kept at the Momart specialised storage facility, situated amid a potentially explosive cocktail of chemicals and gas cylinders.

The huge warehouse in Leyton is split into dozens of units - mostly car workshops and paint-spraying firms - including the Momart section.

Firemen were delayed from safely entering the building, which was completely gutted, for fear of gas tanks and acetylene cylinders exploding.

Last night, best-selling author Shirley Conran, whose own art collection was destroyed in Monday's blaze, said: 'What I'm asking is "Who was looking after this stuff?" I could have stored it in my own garage and done better.' She lost at least ten paintings by Gillian Ayres which, added to those belonging to the artist herself, amounted to more than [pounds sterling]1million.

Speaking from her home in France, she added: 'When I put my stuff with Momart I was shown their very expensive warehouse at their headquarters in Hackney.

It's very impressive, with metal shutters that come down at night to stop people stealing the art and also to contain fire.

'What I want to know is how my paintings ended up on an industrial estate in Leyton surrounded by car workshops and oxyacetylene gas containers.

'They have already told me there was no night watchman and no one at all at the warehouse at the time of the fire.' Dinos Chapman said: 'I think storage places for art should not be put next to storage places for acetylene gas. It seems like a very bad idea.' Brother Jake said they were thinking of remaking Hell - created from 5,000 toy soldiers - in asbestos.

Tracey Emin described the fire as 'a tragedy for British culture,' adding: 'For me the works had great personal and emotional value and are irreplaceable. …