First flooding - now fire

TRACY NEAL AND KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 11:53 29/05/2014

Fire in Stoke

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Distraught Nelson business owners are picking up the pieces from a second disaster in a year, after a large fire ripped through their premises at the Wakatu Industrial Estate.

The fire yesterday afternoon, which was visible across the city, came just as the businesses had recovered from a devastating flood that swept through their buildings last year.

Firefighters spent six hours battling the blaze, which started in premises occupied by a waterblasting firm.

The fire spread to an adjoining building. At one stage it appeared to be under control, before flaring up again in the roof space.

For German butcher Ulrich Heck, it is the third disaster his business has suffered in just over three years.

His original Christchurch factory was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake. He relocated to Nelson, but his new premises were badly damaged in last April's flood - and he has now lost them to fire.

Heck saw the smoke from his home, and arrived at his factory visibly upset. He said that if his business was badly damaged, he would have to consider whether to walk away from it.

The fire started at Waterblaster Solutions, owned by Grant and Andrea Sutton. They were distraught yesterday, and this morning declined to comment on the fire or their immediate plans.

Clinton Jones, managing director of neighbouring gourmet sauce and dressings firm Skippers Choice, said Andrea Sutton was working in the office and her husband was off-site when the fire broke out.

Jones understood she was alerted to the fire by the family dog, which kept nudging her with increasing urgency. She discovered a glow in the workshop and tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher.

"It was too far gone by then, and she ran out and got me and we evacuated everyone else," Jones said.

He said the Sutton's ute, which was a mobile workshop crucial to the business, was parked in the way of the growing flames, which he tried to move.

"It was right in front of the workshop, which had flames billowing out. I tried to shift it and Andrea handed me a large collection of keys - they've got four cars and they're all Toyotas and I couldn't find which key started the vehicle.

"There were flames belching out and I was waiting for something to explode. I gave it two gos, then ran back inside. She gave me what she thought was the key, but it still didn't work."

Jones said some workmen from Heslops engineering firm across the road ran over and helped pull the ute out of the way.

Jones said when the fire reached the large roof cavity above the concrete-walled premises, it really took off.

He said it was terrible luck that the wind was blowing in a direction which helped fan the flames throughout the adjoining premises. However, there were large diesel storage tanks in the other direction.

It was another major setback to his business, but he aimed to get back into production as soon as possible.

"We'll be looking for a food-approved space - a small kitchen factory."

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Jones said he had insurance, but he also had contractual obligations to supply products.

"If you have contracts you're obliged to fill them.

"Right now I'm looking at trying to remove any stock and salvage anything I can."

He would then look at shifting to another site and begin another tidy up.

The premises' landlord Phil Gardiner said today that while he had lost some items in the fire he was more concerned about the tenants' wellbeing. He was on the site yesterday within half an hour of the fire starting, to find the them shocked and stunned.

"It's their livelihoods. Some have been through earthquakes, floods and now this fire," Gardiner said.

He aimed to support them as much as he could, but it was not going to be a "three-month fix" like the floods were.

Gardiner said the process was now in the hands of the fire investigators, who said it was too soon to talk about what might have caused the blaze. A decision might take days, they said.

Fire service Tasman Marlborough area commander Graeme Daikee said fighting the fire was complicated by the fact the complex housed a series of businesses and had a complicated roof design.

The fact the roof areas were made of multi-layered materials meant the fire was difficult to fight.

Fire crews arrived at the scene about 2.30pm and left at 8.30pm, with Nelson firefighters remaining at the scene dampening down hotspots for overnight.

Fire crews from Stoke, Richmond, Wakefield, Nelson and Motueka attended the blaze.

This morning the extent of the damage was clear. The building's southern end was blackened, with the interior of the waterblasting business destroyed and its roof collapsed.

The roof of the adjoining two-storey building had collapsed onto the Wakatu Drive side of the complex which houses the badly damaged premises of Heck German Smallgoods.

The upstairs offices where also destroyed.

Daikee said the fire was one of the largest industrial fires the region had seen for some years.

The fire service set up its incident control vehicle at the scene and had back up from St John with an ambulance at the fire, which was not needed.

Police had assisted with traffic control as the fire and smoke disrupted traffic on nearby Main Rd Stoke and Wakatu Drive.

Daikee said the fire highlighted the value of commercial premises installing sprinkler systems. Sprinklers could stop small fires from spreading and save property from significant damage and businesses from serious disruption.

Stoke Volunteer Fire Brigade deputy fire chief Tane Simpson a fire engineer from Christchurch would help Nelson fire investigators in their investigations.

They would look to see if there were design faults in the building.

It could take a couple of days to determine the cause of the fire. The water blasting business had a lot of flammable items in it including fuel cylinders and tyres. He said smoke from any fire was carcogenic and spectators at fires needed to be aware of this and stay away.

NOT JUST COCOA GOT ROASTED

Chocolate maker Karl Hogarth had just started making his first batch of chocolates in his new Wakatu Estate premises when he got the call to evacuate because of the fire.

"I'm just getting started and just had the roaster installed.

"They finished the job yesterday.

"Today I thought I would give it a run and roast some cocoa.

"I was just putting it into the mixer when this happened.

"I guess that's the end of this batch."

Hogarth, like the other business owners, was unable to go into his building yesterday and was not sure how much damage had been done.

He said while it was not a good start to his new venture, "hopefully it's just a setback".

Other firms in the extensively damaged building include a counselling service and child and family support service, the Open Home Foundation.

- The Nelson Mail

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