Franz Josef fire: body found in burned-out workshop

By Sarah Harris

A building is engulfed in flames at Franz Josef. Photo /  Chanell Van der Westhuizen
A building is engulfed in flames at Franz Josef. Photo / Chanell Van der Westhuizen

A body has been found in a West Coast workshop which was flattened and torched by its owner last night.

Franz Joseph mechanic Clive Jenkins fought with his partner before mounting a bulldozer with oil in its bucket and flattening his prized workshop, Franz Joseph Mechanical. He then torched the Donovan Drive property.

It's also emerged his distraught partner told a neighbour the couple were arguing before last night's destructive rampage, which has left the large Donovan Drive property in ruins.

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Today detectives and fire investigators were sifting through the burned-out shell of the Franz Josef Mechanical business to determine what happened.

Police will also search a building defined as "an area of interest" when it is safe to enter.

Police have revealed the missing man had a number of firearms wrapped in a blanket and that he was carrying a barrel of oil in the bucket of the bulldozer.

A spokesman said a woman called police around 7.40pm saying her partner was driving a bulldozer over the large workshop and adjoining house and that it was now on fire.

One of the first people at the scene, Franz Alpine Retreat manager Keith Hartley, said a woman arrived on his doorstep, drenched after a frantic 400m dash for help.

"She was extremely distressed, dripping wet and she had lost her shoe.

"As she walked in she said, 'look, we had a fight and the place is on fire'.

"She also said her partner was inside."

Hartley, who had just taken over managing the West Coast resort retreat, said he jumped in his ute and raced to the mechanic's two-storey property to see if there was any chance of saving him.

But he was greeted by an inferno.

"By the time I got there the place was completely on fire.

"I yelled out if anyone was inside but there's no way anyone inside could have heard me over the noise of the fire.

"The windows were blowing out and there were explosions going on inside and I couldn't do anything. It was just too dangerous and I high-tailed it."

He said this morning the property was just a burned-out shell.

"I don't think there's anything left inside," he said.

The woman was now being cared for by nearby residents and police.

Locals say the man, a popular and hardworking mechanic, snapped yesterday, taking his frustrations out on his own property using heavy earthmoving equipment to flatten it before destroying everything in a spectacular blaze.

Police said volunteer fire crews were initially hampered by the risk around dangerous goods and severity of the fire and could not tackle the blaze until these were no longer an issue.

The fire was eventually put out at 2.30am, seven hours after it broke out.

Acting West Coast area commander Senior Sergeant Vicki Walker said inquiries were ongoing to find the man, but do not believe he is a threat to anyone.

Friends of the man at the centre of last night's rampage have posted on social media that he was a good man who had worked hard to supply the best service but found it all a bit much.

Said one West Coast local: "A good man who has worked hard with his partners to supply the best service he can found it all a bit much this evening. I'm sure there will be accurate info released tomorrow but for now our little town has lost yet another good man."

Another described him as a "bloody good chap" who went out of his way to help people.

Aucklander Chanell Van der Westhuizen was on a holiday at the Franz Alpine Retreat next door to the fire. She said the huge blaze engulfed the workshop. She said the windows and the cars were exploding with the flames.

"There were lots of explosions.

"It's a huge workshop, a lot of cars were obviously in it."

When she tried to return to her chalet she was cordoned out and had to wait outside for an hour in the cold. She was concerned for her mother who was inside.

A photo sent to the Herald shows a building consumed by fire.

A social media post read: "There is a very interesting situation unfolding in Franz Josef. Someone has lost the plot and driven a bulldozer into a house. The house is on fire but the man is unaccounted for so fire crews are watching from a safe distance while they wait for AOS to arrive. Seems the bulldozer is still in the building."

Emergency Services at the scene of a fire at Franz Josef. Photo / Chanell Van der Westhuizen
Emergency Services at the scene of a fire at Franz Josef. Photo / Chanell Van der Westhuizen

- NZ Herald

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