Some of the iconic Backbencher Pub's political puppets are charred to a crisp after a fire this morning.
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Fire Service central communications shift manager Murray Dunbar said firefighters were alerted at 4.45am when an alarm went off in the neighbouring Kate Sheppard apartment building. Eight fire trucks were sent.
Apartment residents, including embattled Education Minister Hekia Parata, were evacuated from the building.
Backbencher owner Alistair Boyce said it was a "depressing morning" as the kitchen was gutted and needed to be completely redone.
The pub, well-known for its satirical political-themed menus and unique puppetry mounted on the walls, also had damage in the restaurant and bar.
Boyce believed the fire started in the kitchen, but couldn't say what started it.
"These things happen. It could have been anything. The cause of the fire isn't really the issue. Fires happen in kitchens," he said.
Thankfully, no one was at the pub at the time, with staff leaving about 1am.
Boyce said the 40-45 employees would have their wages covered as he wasn't expected to reopen the pub for another six to eight weeks.
"With a liquor licence you need to provide food. I've got no kitchen. Without a kitchen, I don't have a business."
But he said the Backbencher would be back - "we'll be fighting another day".
The puppets of United Future leader Peter Dunne and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples were "charred to a crisp", Boyce said, but could be replaced at a cost of $10,000 each.
The puppets of Prime Minister John Key and deputy prime minister Bill English survived.
When the fire broke out this morning, Kate Sheppard resident Oliver Tapper said people initially thought it might be a drill, but quickly realised it wasn't.
"All these fire trucks were out there and there was heavy big black smoke in the street from the Backbencher."
He said residents were evacuated from the building and were waiting in the cold for about 20 minutes before going into the banquet hall of the Beehive for shelter.
Parata was with her two teenage daughters, he said.
"She had a chat with a few people. When we left the Beehive she came in and said 'I hope you enjoyed your beehive tour, we'll be leaving shortly'."
Residents were allowed back into the building about 5.45am, and about an hour later four fire trucks remained at the pub, ventilating and dampening down the scene.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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