The brides will still wear white

DETERMINATION: 4 Ever After Bridal owner Sarah Barker-McBurney is quietly optimistic there will be no bride without a gown despite the arson attack that left her shop badly smoke-damaged.
DETERMINATION: 4 Ever After Bridal owner Sarah Barker-McBurney is quietly optimistic there will be no bride without a gown despite the arson attack that left her shop badly smoke-damaged.

Sarah Barker-McBurney sits on the window ledge outside her bridal shop.

She can't spend too much time inside because of the strong acrid smell of smoke.

Her worst fear as a bridal-shop owner had come true on Wednesday.

Mrs Barker-McBurney's 4 Ever After Bridal store was one of the shops damaged in an arson attack at the Salford St Shopping Centre.

"From the outside, the damage doesn't look too bad," she said.

But inside, it is a different story. There was a lot of serious damage."

The only silver lining was that the gowns and dresses for her brides were away from the worst-affected area, she said.

It was mostly smoke that had saturated the beautiful gowns.

However, she has lost her stock dresses.

Since racing to her shop on the morning of the arson attack, fearing the worst, Mrs Barker-McBurney's time has been consumed with working to contact her clients and determine the state of their dresses ahead of their big day. "I think I have only had a few hours' sleep," she said.

In a testament to her passion and dedication, there will be one happy bride walking down the aisle today in her chosen and restored gown.

"I am treating and cleaning the wedding gowns and bridal gowns in order of the weddings," Mrs Barker-McBurney said.

It is a job she expects will continue for the next few months.

"The fire couldn't have happened at a worse time," she said.

"It's my busiest time of year for weddings."

Her home was filled with drying wedding dresses and it appeared she was winning the battle to save them.

"The gowns are coming along nicely in the cleaning process. We are quietly optimistic that there will be no bride without a gown," she said.

Showing a stoic sense of humour, Mrs Barker-McBurney said she had removed lipstick, tanning spray and wine stains off gowns but never smoke damage.

"At least I can add that to my services now," she said.

With the smell of smoke still strong in the air, Mrs Barker-McBurney and her sister-in-law, Angela Barker, carefully pack up more gowns to take back to Mrs Barker-McBurney's home.

"The brides are my main priority and I'm working my way through contacting them all," she said.

"Everything else, including thinking about what is next for me, is on hold."

She had been in the bridal business for 10 years and a shop fire had always been her worst fear.

But, she said, it could have been worse. "I imagined the whole shopping centre burnt to the ground, at least I can still get my brides down the aisle."

Police yesterday said investigations were continuing.

Detective Ant King, of Invercargill, released images of property found in the vicinity and at around the same time of the Albert St vehicle fire and the Salford shops fire on Wednesday.

Police were looking to identify the owner or owners of the pictured property, he said.

Anyone with information should contact the Invercargill police on 03 211400 or provide the information anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

The Southland Times