World Bar fire 'prime example of what can go wrong'

By James Beech

Southern region fire safety officer Stuart Ide. Photo / James Beech
Southern region fire safety officer Stuart Ide. Photo / James Beech

If the devastating World Bar fire in Queenstown on Friday afternoon had happened late at night it might have been difficult to get people out, southern region fire safety officer Stuart Ide said.

Mr Ide, of Queenstown, said the bar could then have been full of people and that, combined with the influence of alcohol, could have made evacuation difficult.

"We are looking at running a training course for bar managers and security people and we will be using this as a prime example of what can go wrong and how quickly it can go wrong," he said.

A sprinkler system was not installed, but a fire alarm activated and the fire service received a 111 call.

It emerged over the weekend firefighters did not know the blaze in Fat Badger's Pizza restaurant had spread up a duct and was raging over their heads in the World Bar, when they donned breathing apparatus and fought the fire in the dark.

A total of 46 firefighters and several appliances, including an aerial ladder truck summoned from Invercargill, spent three hours fighting the fire, which consumed the wooden building on Shotover St and billowed thick smoke across the resort, bringing it to a standstill.

A fire crew and appliance was on standby outside the ruined property overnight, then private security guards stood watch from Saturday morning.

Mr Ide guided the Otago Daily Times around the scorched damage emanating from the kitchen of the pizzeria, where the blaze started, then upstairs where the impact was worst.

There was a "huge amount of structural damage", but the cost of repair was for the insurers to calculate, Mr Ide said.

The cause of the fire was associated with the deep fat frying vat in the kitchen and inquiries were ongoing as to how it ignited, he said.

"It could be either an accidental fire, or a fault with the fryer itself, so we're still working through those issues at the moment. . . There's no malicious intent that I am aware of at this stage."

There had been a fire in Fat Badger's on Wednesday but staff had not got around to replacing their extinguisher, Mr Ide said the manager had told him.

She was setting up in the restaurant when the chef called her. She decided to tackle the fire before the flames went out of control.

"You can say there should be an extinguisher there at all times, but after you've been pretty unlucky to have one fire, you don't really expect to get a second one in a short period of time," Mr Ide said.

"They generally did the right thing by getting another extinguisher from the World Bar upstairs and they used a fire blanket. By this stage the fire had built up a lot of heat and the fire blanket kept falling off.

"They tried to cover it a couple of times, but by that stage the smoke was getting too much for them and they had to evacuate."

The air in the World Bar was acrid, the floor a grey swamp and illumination came from daylight through rips in the roof. Only the layout made it recognisable as one of Queenstown's most popular bars.

Mr Ide gestured to the ducting system where fire shot up from the kitchen downstairs, spread across the ceiling and engulfed the unoccupied bar.

"We are very grateful it wasn't late at night when it would have been chocka with people upstairs and we may have had difficulty getting people out because alcohol is not a good mixture with people when you're trying to evacuate, so that's a positive," he said.

Mr Ide showed the ODT the difference newly installed fire stop doors made as they protected an empty northeast room from the fire. The building next door had a sprinkler system, but firefighters protected it with water curtains.

All businesses around the stricken building were open for business as normal over the weekend.

Quest owner Ants Ruski-Jones said his business got off lightly with a little smoke and water damage, but the main drawback was the loss of electricity because it was sourced from the back of Fat Badger's.

The shop was running on generator power over the weekend and there had been several offers of support from the community, he said.

"The good news is we are trading. [The fire] is quite a devastating thing for Queenstown. As we all know, the World Bar is an institution and it's been part of the fabric of Queenstown for a long time."

Mr Ruski-Jones said the future of the building was unknown until the authorities inspected the site today and a fire official visited from Auckland. From there, decisions were up to landlord Dave Boyd.

Happy Travellers was due to move into the vacant unit on the other side of Fat Badger's, the unit the pizza business vacated for larger premises earlier this year, but was told its move was postponed indefinitely.

The World Bar will reopen, marketing manager Chris Barnhart said yesterday. But it was not known if that would be in the same place.

Asked how the 18 staff members were feeling, Mr Barnhart said the transition was tough but they were quite positive after meeting yesterday afternoon.

- Otago Daily Times

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