The Big Read: The West Coast mechanic who went on a destructive rampage in Franz Josef

West Coast mechanic Clive Jenkins went on a destructive and deadly rampage. Photo / Facebook
West Coast mechanic Clive Jenkins went on a destructive and deadly rampage. Photo / Facebook

He was a well-known local identity regarded by many as a top bloke, but on Tuesday night West Coast mechanic Clive Jenkins went on a destructive and deadly rampage.

Jenkins fought with his partner and then, carrying firearms wrapped in a blanket, climbed on to a bulldozer, which had a barrel of oil in its bucket.

He drove the bulldozer over his prized, purpose-built workshop, Franz Josef Mechanical, and is then believed to have torched it, causing a spectacular blaze that burned for hours.

Police found a body inside the burned-out shell of the Donovan Drive property yesterday. It has not been formally identified but is believed to be Jenkins.

His distressed partner called police around 7.40pm on Tuesday and then ran through the rain to the nearby Franz Alpine Retreat for help.

A building is engulfed in flames at Franz Josef in South Island. Photo / Supplied
A building is engulfed in flames at Franz Josef in South Island. Photo / Supplied

Retreat manager Keith Hartley said she was extremely stressed, dripping wet and had lost her shoe when she arrived on his doorstep.

"All she could say was the place was alight and her partner was inside."

Hartley jumped in his ute and raced to the property to try to save Jenkins, but it was too late.

"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 blaze was so intense firefighters had to stand back to the edge of the nearby State Highway 6 to fight it.

One witness described it as "glowing red" like "something you'd see out of the movies".

It took hours to get the biggest fire in the town for nearly 30 years under control. It was finally extinguished just before 2.30am. However volunteers were still dampening down hot spots and flare-ups yesterday morning.

Today detectives and fire investigators were sifting through the burned-out shell of the mechanical business to determine what happened. Photo / Greymouth Star
Today detectives and fire investigators were sifting through the burned-out shell of the mechanical business to determine what happened. Photo / Greymouth Star

Terrified holiday-makers and local residents spoke of watching the property burn, and some turned to social media last night to post images of the inferno.

One person said tourists were prevented from returning to their chalets while police erected cordons and tried to bring the unfolding drama under control.

Monique Hartley said she and her husband Devon received a call from her parents-in-law who had just taken over management of the adjacent Jag Escape Franz Alpine Retreat to say a woman had arrived at their door "hysterical and crying".

They understood there had been a domestic argument during which the man, in his late 30s, had set the premises alight.

"He got in his loader with some barrels of fuel and drove it through the door and lit it on fire," Hartley said.

"He's lit it himself - we don't know why."

Members of the small, tight-knit Franz Josef community said they were baffled by last night's events.

Jenkins was well-known and well-liked, having lived and worked in the West Coast resort town for years.

The scene of the fire. Photo / ChanellVan der Weshuizen
The scene of the fire. Photo / ChanellVan der Weshuizen

For a time, he was a maintenance man at the Rainforest Retreat in Franz Josef, which meant he supplied many local businesses with winter fuel.

He also spent many years working as a mechanic at the local garage before it closed.

At that point he set up his own business at the premises he torched two nights ago. The large shed was purpose-built with the house on the second storey of the workshop.

His business struck trouble a few years ago when the Haast Rd was washed out, Jenkins' friend Hohepa Barrett told the Herald.

The washout meant vehicles couldn't access the small West Coast settlement.

"It slowed business down a lot and businesses certainly felt the pinch," said Barrett.

But Jenkins remained strong in character.

When Barrett first arrived in Franz Josef, Jenkins helped him settle in and even gave his expert mechanical skills for free to those strapped for cash.

Photo / Greymouth Star
Photo / Greymouth Star

"When we first got there we had nothing. He spent a whole day with me in the bush cutting down ponga so we could plant them on our land."

A top mechanic, Jenkins even repaired Barrett's car when it broke down, and didn't charge him.

"He told me he liked to help the underdog. That was Clive all over."

Barrett's sentiments were supported by other locals.

Another Franz Josef resident said Jenkins was a "bloody good chap" who went out of his way to help people, and another said he was a "nice guy, a good guy".

- NZ Herald

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