Waipara Hotel fire a 'random accident'
A blaze which ravaged much of the landmark Waipara Hotel was a random accident, a fire investigator says.
The fire severely damaged the private lodgings and accommodation area of the landmark North Canterbury hotel yesterday.
Specialist fire investigator Sheryl Reveley said the fire was most likely caused by timber above an open fireplace igniting after years of heat exposure.
''Eventually it gets so dry and pre-charred that eventually one more application and it catches on fire,'' she said.
The hotel was uninsured.
Hotel owners Willie and Melissa Inia had lit the open fire in their private lodgings, attached to the accommodation wing of the premises, when they got up in the morning, Reveley said.
It was almost out when the couple left for a walk in the hills about 11.30am.
By about 2.30pm, the fire had spread throughout the roof space of the country building, which is on State Highway 7.
Fire fighters took just under an hour to bring the blaze under control.
The Inias returned home after the fire was out.
They have owned the pub since 2002. They sold it at auction on Friday, but the possession date was not until next month.
''There is nothing suspicious about the fire at all. It's just a terrible set of circumstances. It could have happened a week later, when they had moved on,'' Reveley said.
''You just don't know when something like this is going to occur.''
Reveley had ruled out an electrical cause.
The only other possible cause was that a log rolled out of the open fire, but that was a less likely scenario, she said.
Reveley said if the fire was completely out when the Inias left home, it was unlikely to have prevented the blaze.
The Inias yesterday were able to go into the building and salvage what they could. Most of their belongings were badly damaged. Clothing was unlikely to be salvageable.
The bar area of the premises sustained only smoke damage, Reveley said.
Waipara townsfolk have rallied around the couple, offering support and assistance.
Among them are members of the Glenmark Lions Club, which is holding a meeting tomorrow night to discuss how to gather monetary and clothing donations for the Inias from the wider Waipara community.
''Willie's been a good member of the district. A really easy going, jovial guy. He's been helping myself out and others with farm work. Melissa is a great woman. Just lovely people,'' club president Ian Hamilton said.
''We will be doing everything we can to help them. We hope to raise a decent sum of money for them. They certainly will need it.''
Hamilton saw Willie Inia briefly this morning as the couple was trying to salvage what they could from their home of over a decade. The couple, who have young children, took over the business in 2002.
''They were fairly distressed and really in shock. It's absolutely shocking.''