By JOSIE CLARKE
Eketahuna is probably the most joked-about place in New Zealand, but the residents are in no mood for laughing.
The blink-and-you-miss-it Wairarapa township has been reduced - by a single fire - to about two-thirds of a blink.
A fault in a computer sparked the early morning blaze that destroyed a third of its businesses.
The surrounding community of 630 has lost its only petrol station and Lotto shop, an auto repairs and La Cafe Eketahuna.
Just four stores, the fish'n'chip shop and two pubs remain.
What really hurts, though, is that the nearest petrol is now 25km away in Pahiatua and 10 scarce jobs have vanished.
And, going into its second week as a township no longer whole, residents are wondering aloud about its future on the map.
Eketahuna's community board chairman, Max Cooper, said people were devastated by the loss.
"In a small community like this, a fire that takes out three businesses just about guts the place."
Fire inspectors have traced the blaze to an electrical fault in a computer at the back of the service station.
Mr Cooper said locals were most concerned about the loss of their Shell station.
"If we don't get a petrol station here, house values will drop. Who's going to buy a house here when you have to drive 25km to get petrol?"
Shell said the station was an independent site, and it was up to the owner-operator to rebuild.
Service station attendant and Lotto operator Monica Dykman said locals were "pretty down in the dumps."
"The manager's gone away because she's had a gutsful of it all.
"Everyone's telling us we need a petrol station but it's out of our hands."
Peter Day, who owns the three businesses but lives in Palmerston North, is determined to rebuild. He is waiting to hear from his insurer.
"My heart goes out to the town but at this stage my hands are just completely tied."
Craft shop owner Vaughan Robertson, who lost his 1950 Ford Prefect in the fire, said locals were fiercely proud of Eketahuna despite knowing that others made fun of their home.
He mentioned a recent radio competition that offered a first prize of one night in Eketahuna and a second prize of two nights.
"I know it's probably the most joked-about place in New Zealand. But even though people joke and laugh, it's a beautiful little town.
"When the shock's gone, there will be a lot of strong people who will rise to the occasion."