Nelson’s Elma Turner library and staff and customers in the building housing Prego Mediterranean Foods were rapidly evacuated yesterday morning as a large fire took hold in the building.
Nelson City Council confirmed the fire was in an area of the council-owned building where stores of furniture and fixtures from the Nelson Arts Festival were kept.
Smoke from the fire closed businesses down in the immediate area, including the customer services centre of Civic House.
Library staff were able to get everyone out of the building within minutes, but several members of the public who were inside the emergency cordon were seen trying to gain entry to the library to drop off and collect books.
Fire Service Nelson District senior station officer Richard Lovering said there would be an investigation into the cause of the fire,
There had been difficulties with access, and with locating the fire, due to the large quantities of smoke.
More appliances had been called to boost the manpower available, he said.
About seven appliances and 30 officers and firefighters had attended.
Crews had only been able to enter the building for short periods of time, and had to be rotated with others once their air supply ran out.
The fire had quickly been restricted to the ceiling space between the downstairs storeroom and the upstairs floor, he said.
The relocateable hazmat/command centre had been deployed to manage the operation.
Prego co-owner Claudia Kern said an off-duty fireman was in the shop at the time, and took over the phone after she had dialled emergency services.
‘‘The fire service got here very quickly. I was on the phone dialling 111 and an off-duty fireman took the phone and handled the situation,’’ she said.
Parents with children and foreign tourists in the library at the time said the evacuation went smoothly, but German tourists Lena Jobst and David Hack said it wasn’t until someone shouted in German that they knew the situation was serious.
‘‘I saw one woman with a child running out. It was handled well. I heard a woman cry, ‘fire’! then a German woman shouted it in German. At first I thought it was a joke, then we grabbed our stuff and left,’’ Ms Jobst said.
Mr Hack said he did not realise how bad it was until he got outside and saw all the dense smoke billowing from the building.
Library manager Ian Littleworth, who is on leave but turned up at the site, said while there was no fire damage in the library a lot of smoke had gone through it.
‘‘Anything like this you have to make sure the staff and customers are okay first then you worry about the stock.
‘‘It reinforces the importance of fire drills,’’ he said.
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