The destruction by fire of Manaia's Waimate Hotel came as a "big shock" for the community, South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop told the Herald this morning.
"We are still reeling from our intermediate school fire and an industry fire a couple of weeks ago," he said. "We wonder what is going on."
He said it was also "very sad" for the hotel's owners and patrons.
Fire crews were called to the fire at the Waimate Hotel in Manaia, south of New Plymouth, just after 4am today.
Guests at the hotel had to be evacuated but there were no reports of any injuries.
Jan Wills from the Fire Service says there are still a large number of firefighters at the scene.
There was no indication of the cause at this stage but Fire Safety would be investigating.
The fire leaves the south Taranaki settlement without a pub, with the New Commercial Hotel destroyed by fire nearly 10 years ago.
Karen Harrison shared a photo of the burning hotel on Facebook and wrote: "Our beloved Waimate hotel burning."
Under her photo, local residents and family members expressed their shock.
Nicole Angela Harrison said: "Holy hell she gone."
Jason Cameron wrote: "S**t she's well and truly gone alright."
Amanda Harrison said: "Wonder where all the old boys are going to go now. Manaia is now a no pub town. Such fond memories have there."
Others said how sad it was.
Glenda Ross said: "Oh my goodness!!!! Lot of history gone. Such a shame. What happened?"
Amanda Hauwai wrote on Facebook: "Holy moly that's bloody sad!"
Eileen Mary Flay said: "So sad that Waimate Hotel has been razed I was the Publican there in the eighties and had some great times..."
South Taranaki farmer Sue Johnston ?lamented the loss saying it was a sad day for Manaia.
"Wow another fire in our region. Waimate Hotel in Manaia. Sad day for the small rural town," she posted.
State Highway 45 is closed between Hassard and Kaipi Streets due to the fire.
The New Zealand Transport Agency said diversions were in place and motorists were advised to follow the directions of emergency services.
Yarrows health and safety manager Jim Ngere said the stench of the fire pervaded the town.
"Even as I was driving into work you could smell the smoke in the air," he said.
The whole town had now been blocked off as firefighters tended to the smouldering ruins.
He said the devastation was stunning.
"There's nothing there."
As the fire brigades worked on extinguishing the fire which destroyed the Waimate Hotel in Manaia, staff from a nearby bread factory brought sandwiches and pies for them.
"It's the least we can do really, they are doing all they can," said one of the Yarrows shop staff.
Logan Sykes was working a shift at the Yarrows factory when the fire started.
"We came out and saw the flames. The fire trucks were here fast but they couldn't save it."
By 7am, the two-storey building had been reduced to a smouldering pile of rubble after fire crews from New Plymouth, Harewa, Eltham, Okaiawa and Katona, along with the Manaia brigade, had worked to extinguish the fire which started at 4am.
Chief fire officer Shane Taylor of the Manaia brigade said the building had collapsed on itself during the fire. No one had been inside the building at the time, he said. Fire crews are now working on extinguishing individual hotspots as they occur and Mr Taylor said they were waiting for the insurance company to come and remove paperwork from the rubble. Fire investigators are also on their way to start determining the cause of the fire.
The hotel was the only pub in town after The New Commercial was destroyed by fire 10 years ago. Many locals who watched this morning's fire remembered watching the New Commercial burn a decade ago. "They had more fire trucks come to this fire," said witness Paula Green. "This one was out faster but the same end result of the pub being completely gone."
Don Strawbridge was a regular at the Waimate Hotel, "I drank there most days really. Best pub in town! A real shame to see it go. Terrible."
Chris Barry James said: "Awful news from Manaia this morning. I can only hope and am sure the owners are getting the support and love they most definitely need right now. It will be interesting to see how the community gets through this, such devastation can act either as a catalyst for decline or an opportunity to come together and grow. Let's hope it's the latter."
Yarrows health and safety manager, Jim Ngere, said the stench of the fire pervaded the town. "Even as I was driving into work you could smell the smoke in the air," he said.
The whole town had now been blocked off as firefighters tended to the smouldering ruins. He said the devastation was stunning."There's nothing there."