Gore farm supplies premises razed
On Sunday afternoon Geoff Popenhagen locked up his livestock and farm supplies business in Gore and drove to Invercargill to pick up his wife from the airport after working all weekend.
A few hours later they were sitting in the cab of their truck watching helplessly as thick smoke rose from the ruins of their business and smothered the town centre.
Yesterday morning the owner of Livestock Supplies was sitting around the breakfast table at his home with his 10 employees.
They were digesting the devastation caused by a massive fire that ripped through the business which had been his livelihood for nearly 20 years. It had also put food on the table for his workers and their families.
Southland Fire Service area commander Bruce Stubbs said it appeared the fire started in the area of the switchboard in the 50 metre by 60m building.
Back at the scene with his employees standing by his side, Popenhagen said he was shattered.
"I don't know what to say."
What was turning out to be a record year for the business was now a pile of smouldering rubble and ashes.
"It's all gone," Popenhagen said.
When the flames were
consuming the business, which was initially opened in 1985, Popenhagen was in Invercargill oblivious to the situation.
"I was waiting for my wife's plane to land when a person I know came up to me with her iPhone and asked if it was my business on fire," he said.
Despite his loss, Popenhagen was thinking of others.
"I want to apologise to the people of Gore for the trouble the fire caused. I even disrupted a church service," he said.
However, it appeared the community did not feel an apology was necessary, with overwhelming support for the businessman.
"People have been offering storage space and a place to mix my feed products. The phone has been ringing off the hook," Popenhagen said.
Exhausted volunteers from the Gore fire brigade were back dampening down hot spots at the site yesterday. Most had returned after only two hours of sleep.
Gore deputy fire chief Donald McGuigan said the fire, fuelled by exploding LPG cylinders that powered four forklifts, was a huge job to contain, especially with the strong easterly fanning the fire towards the neighbouring Gas and Tool Direct building.
The fire covered 450 square metres. The unknown effects of fumes from the burning minerals used in stock feed supplements forced the large-scale evacuation of the area, he said.
Gas and Tool Direct manager Trevor Taylor said his heart went out to his neighbour but he was relieved his workplace was still standing.
"It was close thing. We have a lot of industrial gases and if the fire had made it across there would have been a big bang."
Gore district mayor Tracy Hicks said the fire had been both spectacular and devastating.
"I feel for the owner and the employees," he said.
There would also be long-term implications for farmers in Southland and Otago who relied on Livestock Supplies, Hicks said.