Whangārei's iconic, 107-year -old ''Old Town Hall'' has been severely damaged in a fire that took hold of much of its second floor and destroyed its landmark clock tower.
The alarm was raised at 12.45pm, with reports that people could smell smoke coming from the building in Bank St.
Within minutes, flames could be seen through the windows on the north side of the second storey. An eye witness said that at about the same as a fleet of Fire Service vehicles and crews arrived, the glass in several windows burst and flames belted out through them.
Only minutes later flames could be seen licking at the base and seconds later engulfing the ornate clock tower in the centre of the gabled, tiled roof. While the inside of the building burned, and its large sash windows were no match for the flames, the former Town Hall's exterior masonry walls held fast.
No one was hurt in the fire.
A crowd of around 1000 people lined the opposite side of Bank St watching as a large team of firefighters tackled the fire, first carrying hoses through the once ornate doors then with a high pressure hose off a fire ladder.
Many among the crowd expressed sadness about the fate of one of Whangārei's most treasured buildings, also known as the Municipal building. It had recently undergone an extensive refurbishment.
The building has been used for several years to house the offices of community groups such as the Citizen's Advice Bureau.
Fire and Emergency investigations are underway to determine the cause of the fire.