Suspicions over building fires

ANNA TURNER AND FRANCESCA LEE
Last updated 08:35 10/12/2012

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Police are urging any witnesses to two suspicious fires in central Chrsitchurch to come forward.

On Friday night, fires destroyed the historic Billens Building on the corner of Tuam and High streets and the old Konica Minolta building in Moorhouse Ave. 

Detective Sergeant Ross Tarawhiti said police wanted to speak to people who may have seen the fires in the early stages.

"We need to talk to be people so we can start eliminating people," he said.

"For example, we may have had a call from someone saying they saw three people in the area but we haven't heard from those people. That's the sort of thing".

He confirmed both fires were being treated as suspicious. "There is no reason why they should have gone up in flames by themselves."

A fire investigator said the two fires could be linked.

"They have similarities, being buildings that are unoccupied and that don't have power, so there should be nobody in them," fire risk management officer Shane O'Brien said.

"There was no power in either building, no hot work [welding, grinding] and both buildings were under demolition or stabilisation.

"In the Konica Minolta building on Moorhouse Ave there was some cutting being done but the area where work was being undertaken in was not the area involved in the fire, so there's no legitimate cause for that, other than that it was deliberately lit."

O'Brien said there was no firm evidence linking the fires, which happened less than an hour apart.

The Billens Building remained smouldering on Saturday morning and one side of Tuam St was still closed to pedestrians yesterday, while High St was still blocked. It was too dangerous for investigators to undertake further scene investigations.

The Christchurch Heritage Trust bought the building in May with the intention of spending more than $4 million rescuing the brick facade.

Trust director Anna Crighton said the fire was devastating.

"Upsetting is when you burn your toast. This is devastating. Architecturally, it was one of the buildings in the area. It's just beyond repair."

She said she did not know what was going to happen to the building after the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority removed the loose bits that could endanger people and cleared the rubble off High St.

The building's fate would be decided at the trust's next board meeting, she said.

Police are also investigating the two fires, and Tarawhiti said police were following lines of inquiry and were looking to speak to people who were in the area at the time.

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- The Press

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