By ANGELA GREGORY



TUTUKAKA - Bar staff found an old survivor while sifting through the charcoal where the landmark Tutukaka hotel stood only days ago.



Most of the hotel, mainly the bars, were gutted by fire after an electric motor burst into flames in the coolstore on Monday afternoon.



The debris was only vaguely recognisable yesterday although a case of bubbly and a big top, which covered many summer bands over the years, somehow survived the blaze.

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But the biggest excitement came when a fire-damaged but intact photo of renowned game fishing operator Fred Cotterill was plucked from beneath a layer of ashes.



Mr Cotterill died six years ago but his regular seat in the Fisherman's Bar, which was packed full of memorabilia, was still well known as Fred's Corner.



It was in that spot that his photo surfaced and was later handed over to his widow, Barbara, who still lives just 10m from the hotel.



"I didn't believe it, but I told them he was indestructible; Fred was a bit of a legend."



Mrs Cotterill's links to the hotel go back even further than her husband's.



About 100 years ago her grandparents built the original guesthouse where the hotel stands.



"People have been saying no wonder it burned down because it was so old, but the oldest bit wasn't even touched by the fire."



Mrs Cotterill said the guesthouse was turned into a hotel in 1964 and the large lounge bar added later.



"Many people have been saying the place should have been bulldozed by now, but it was horrifying to see it go up in flames," she said.



The hotel's lease-holder, Dianne Quinn, said the owners had assured her they would rebuild.



"We are going to stay. We love it here."



Mrs Quinn estimated it could take six months to have another hotel in place.



Long-time patron Bill Flower said he started going to the hotel more than 30 years ago but slowed down to an annual visit after he retired.



His favourite "possie" in the lounge bar was known as Flower's Corner and the stories he heard there were even bigger than the fish caught off the coast.



"I would drop in for a yarn with the boys on the way back from town. There were a lot of fish caught in that pub, and they got bigger as the night went on. You would see their arms getting wider and wider."