Mercer pub engulfed by flames
Owner vows to rebuild Muddy WatersMATT BOWEN
Outside the charred and smoke damaged Muddy Waters Irish Pub and Restaurant is its owner, James Oliver.
He's standing at the entrance near his wife, Liane, looking at the top story windows that were blown out during a blaze that ripped through the place overnight.
But it's more than Mercer's Muddy Waters pub for him- it's home too.
It was a typically quiet start to the winter week yesterday and Oliver shut the doors at 10pm.
He and Liane were asleep in their living quarters - a lounge and bedroom upstairs overlooking the Waikato River - when the fire alarm sounded around 11.40pm.
They rushed downstairs. There was thick smoke everywhere.
They managed to exit via the rear fire escape and dial 111.
Oliver says the family is upset, yet agrees to talk hours after escaping the blaze.
It's when he recalls the memorabilia inside that words lodge in his throat and his chin tightens.
It's a while before he carries on to say photos of their children were up there as well.
An estimated 70 per cent of Muddy Waters' interior was damaged but it's fully insured and Oliver says they'll rebuild as soon as they can and get the dozen staff back on the job.
The establishment itself has been a feature in the riverside town for nearly 20 years, 13 of them under the Olivers.It is a regular stop-off point for sports teams heading south, including the touring British and Irish Lions squad in 2005.
Hamilton's own Melville football team are regular customers on the way back from a big game in Auckland.
The ceiling was covered with Irish soccer, rugby and gaelic football jerseys.Eighty-odd fire fighters were there working to save it.
Initially they feared someone was inside but the Olivers and a lodger managed to evacuate in time. St John ambulance staff assessed the trio at the scene for smoke inhalation.
Fire Service spokesman Steve Smith said the 250 square metre building was well ablaze when the first brigade arrived.
A second and third alarm call went out for back up as the fire intensified and specialist lifting equipment was needed to attack from above.
All told, 16 fire appliances responded from as far away as Avondale in Auckland and Hamilton in the south.
Fire risk management officer Phil Faidley ruled out suspicious circumstances and is investigating whether an ''electrical event'' in the ground floor storage area was to blame.
''Fire safety in a business is very important especially if you have people living on site. The evacuation of this building could have been hampered by less than adequate fire escapes. We're just lucky that the fire alarms worked on the premises and alerted the occupants. If that hadn't been the case we'd probably be looking at a very serious tragedy.
"If there's a message to business it's to make sure the fire safety of your business is up to scratch and they can get information about it from our website.''