Preliminary investigations into the Livestock Supplies building fire in Gore has narrowed down the possible cause to the switchboard.
LATEST: Southland Fire Service area commander Bruce Stubbs said preliminary investigation showed the fire started in the area of the switchboard.
The owner of Livestock Supplies in Gore says he is devastated by the fire that gutted his business overnight.
Owner Geoff Popenhagen was on site this morning as firefighters sift through the rubble of his business.
Popenhagen said he found out about the fire last night when he was at the Invercargill Airport picking up his wife.
''I'm absolutely gutted,'' he said.
He also paid tribute to the firefighters who battled the fire.
Parts of Gore were evacuated and residents told to keep windows and doors closed last night as more than 90 firefighters battled one of the largest fires in recent Southland history.
The fire service was called to the fire in the Livestock Supplies building in Railway St at 6.20pm, arriving to find the 50m-by-60m commercial building engulfed.
Livestock Supplies Ltd salesman and 11-year employee John Stevens said the building was "totalled".
"I'm totally gutted. I'm lost for words. It's devastating."
By midnight, the fire was almost extinguished after 90 fire fighters and 11 fire engines battled the blaze for over five hours.
* Videographer David Lormans captured the fire in Gore last night and posted it on youtube.
Fire Communications shift manager Andrew Norris said crews from Gore, Pukerau, Mataura, Riversdale, Tapanui and Invercargill were sent to the blaze, with an aerial fire truck from Invercargill also sent.
The building was "totally involved in fire", he said.
Crews had also worked to protect dangerous goods in a nearby sheetmetal business.
Police shut down supermarkets, pubs and other businesses in the area as thick smoke blanketed the town.
The State Highway 1 bridge over the Mataura River was closed last night, preventing many people from going home.
Residents were also told to keep windows and doors shut.
Rock St resident Bridget Brown said she and her husband heard "really loud" bangs just after 6pm and initially thought someone was banging on their door.
Looking out her window, she could see black smoke and two hours later the flames were "still roaring", she said.
They had been told they may have to evacuate, she said.
Another Rock St resident said she heard an explosion and thought it was a car crash. "I looked up and here was the blaze coming out of the roof."
Gore resident Robyn Gillan-Little said she was cooking dinner when she looked out the window and saw black smoke. "It was just little and then it took off."
Gillan-Little went to her neighbours' house where she saw the first building looking "hot".
A short time later, the building collapsed, she said.
Gore woman Shona Hewlett said the flames got "huge really quickly".
Two fire fighters were sent to hospital as a precautionary measure after suffering smoke inhalation.
There was no known cause for the fire tonight, but fire investigators would arrive at the scene at daylight, Southland Fire Service area commander Bruce Stubbs said. Environment Southland were at the to discuss possible toxic chemicals that had burned.
It was a windy night in Gore and smoke had drifted across the town. Fire Service staff would be available to meet with residents concerned about smoke inhalation or after-effects like ash settled on cars, Stubbs said.
State Highway One was closed for two hours from 7pm at Gore to allow the Fire Service access to water, he said.
- The Southland Times
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