Precious items destroyed in blaze

TOM HUNT, ANDREA O'NEIL AND TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 09:31 05/04/2014
Wellington storage fire
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Firefighters battle a blaze at the Kiwi Self Storage in Wellington.

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Customers of a Kilbirnie self-storage building destroyed by fire have been shocked to discover it had no sprinkler system.

Heirlooms, Oscars and thousands of a DJ's precious vinyl records have all gone up in smoke in a fire that burned throughout the day at Kiwi Self Storage in Rongotai Rd, near Wellington Airport. Fire Service assistant area commander Paul Smith confirmed the building had no sprinklers.

If it had had them, the fire would have been contained to where it started, he said.

But there was no legal requirement for the building to have sprinklers.

Lord of the Rings cinematographer Alex Funke had two Oscars, as well as "some Baftas", in a unit at the heart of the blaze, which began about 12.45am.

He was not notified until 8.40am, and rushed down to the scene. "It's very upsetting," he said. "You put stuff in storage . . . you think it's safe."

Funke was not aware the building had no sprinklers when he put his items in storage.

He also understood the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences could probably replace the Oscar statuettes - but many customers have lost precious personal items that can never be replaced.

Radio Active DJ Brenden Robertson has lost about $60,000 worth of vinyl records and musical instruments; the Shanahan family has lost priceless photographs of Wellington's history taken by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra trombonist Thomas Shanahan; and many others have lost family treasures.

Wellington woman Nita Heard lost her grandmother's wedding dress and her father's christening gown. She is in between houses and had nowhere else to store the precious items.

"They charge a fortune and they didn't even have sprinklers," she said. "It's shocking."

Kiwi Self Storage general manager Howard Trautvetter declined to make any comment yesterday, other than to say it had been "a very big day for us".

Smith said about 30 firefighters would remain at the site overnight, dampening down hot spots.

"It's a very labour-intensive job. They'll have to grab all the contents out of the units and extinguish each one individually."

The fire was extinguished shortly after midnight last night.

People with belongings in neighbouring units might be able to access them today, but it could take longer.

Despite firefighters needing to demolish part of the building to gain access, Smith believed the cause of the fire could still be determined.

"We've got a general area where it started . . . So they [investigators] will be able to concentrate their attentions on that area."

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Two fire investigators were this morning at the scene to determine the cause of the blaze.

HERITAGE GOES UP IN SMOKE

Jane Shanahan's father avidly documented Wellington history for 50 years - in photographs so special they were destined for the city's archives. Now they've all gone up in smoke.

Thomas Shanahan, a New Zealand Symphony Orchestra trombonist who died in 2004, was also a photographer, whose pictures captured the 1981 Springbok tour, and a visit to the capital by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

They were set for preservation at Wellington's Alexander Turnbull Library, and the family had been sorting through them with plans to catalogue them before they were passed over.

"Other things can be insured, but that's nothing compared to losing all those irreplaceable photographs," his daughter said. "It's a tragedy . . . It was a pity to find out afterwards that Kiwi Storage didn't even have a sprinkler system."

A DOUBLE BLOW FOR RADIO DJ

"Everything I've ever spent money on in the last 20 years of my life has gone up in flames, by the look of it."

The loss of decades-worth of vinyl records collected from around the globe has floored Radio Active DJ Brenden Robertson.

His encyclopaedic collection of reggae and world music has been going out over the airwaves and at festivals for 16 years. He kept the records in revolving storage at the Kilbirnie lockup.

Yesterday's fire also claimed clothing and family heirlooms belonging to him, his two children, and partner Amy. "This is not shaping up to be a very good year."

He treated his storage unit like some blokes used their garages, he said - always in and out, tinkering and checking on his stuff. Just weeks ago he retrieved a 130-year-old German double bass, little realising it would be all he had left of his muscial instruments and thousands of records worth about $60,000.

Yesterday he was clamouring to be allowed inside his ruined unit. "I would like to be there with my things and get some closure. It's like seeing someone who's gone and saying goodbye at a funeral."

ADIEU TO BALLET PORTRAITS

Stephen A'Court can replace his wrecked photography gear, but it's the final curtain for some prized portraits of Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers and Circa Theatre thespians he shot on film.

"It's just the way it goes, really. I'm fortunate in that I have some insurance and will be able to get up and running pretty quickly."

His damaged cameras and gear should be covered, he said, though he was saddened by the thought of farewelling a 20-year-old tripod saved from the beginning of his career.

He feared his prints of ballerinas and actors, shot more than 10 years ago and never digitised, would be too damaged to restore. "Some of that stuff will be gone forever."

- The Dominion Post

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