Shortcuts may have caused fire

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:24 25/01/2013
fire
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
BLAZE: Firefighters at the fire near the Nelson Elma Turner library and in the building housing Prego Mediterranean Foods owned by the Nelson City Council.

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Shortcuts at the expense of safety are the root cause of the fire, in a council-owned central city building, that endangered the public, says the owner of a neighbouring business.

The fire in the Halifax St building between the Elma Turner public library and Prego Mediterranean Foods triggered a blaze that was close to a flash-over when fire crews arrived on the morning of Wednesday last week. Library users and shoppers were evacuated, and seven fire appliances and 30 officers and firefighters were needed to contain the blaze.

Part of the ground floor of the building was used for storage and the rest is rented to Prego Mediterranean Foods.

Fire safety investigator Lewis Jones found the fire started because a large halogen light inadvertently left on in the storage building radiated enough heat to ignite nearby combustible material.

Prego Mediterranean Foods owner Peter McNairney said the floodlights were powered by extension cables running from the library.

He said the root of the problem was that the council did not have mains power in the storage building. Because there were no windows, lights were needed and extension cables were run from the library to the floodlights.

Also, because there was no mains power, the smoke alarm did not work, he said.

He questioned whether the council did not have mains power to save on insurance as the building would be classified as unoccupied.

Mr McNairney has written to the council asking for an explanation and he is awaiting a reply.

"My feeling is that it would not be acceptable for any other commercial property owner to take such shortcuts. Those shortcuts have been taken at the expense of our safety," he said.

It was lucky that a solid internal wall had prevented the fire and smoke from damaging Prego's premises and stock, he said. "We were very lucky - if the fire had occurred at night the outcome would have been very different."

Council executive manager network services Alec Louverdis said today the council was unable to comment while the investigation into the fire was open. In addition to the Fire Service investigation, the council was conducting an internal investigation that was under way. A summary of the findings of both investigations would be made public as soon as possible.

Mr Jones said the lesson from the fire was that lights such as those used for lighting up large areas were not reasonably designed for that indoor use. "They produce far too much heat. When they come up against something like combustible material it's like a heater. It radiates heat and eventually something combusts."

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He expects to complete his report to the council next month.

The fire damaged some equipment used to stage Arts and Summer Festival events.

- Nelson

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