A diamond-tipped chainsaw was used to pierce a hole in the copper cap on the clock tower of Whangārei's Old Town Hall so all traces of a devastating fire could be extinguished.

Hours after the fire on the second floor of the historic 107-year-old building on Bank St was doused, firefighters used a special fire appliance from Auckland's Parnell station equipped with an aerial basket on the end of a extendible ladder, to access the clock tower.

The alarm was raised about 12.45pm on Thursday and everyone in the building was evacuated. It didn't take long before a wall of white smoke made it almost impossible to see anything on the central city street.

A plume of smoke covers Bank St as a fire takes hold in the The Old Town Hall in central Whangārei. Photo / Kristin Edge
A plume of smoke covers Bank St as a fire takes hold in the The Old Town Hall in central Whangārei. Photo / Kristin Edge

The fire quickly took hold of much of the second floor, spreading through the roof and destroying the landmark clock tower.

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Fire and Emergency's Whangārei/ Kaipara assistant area commander Graeme Quensell was onsite last night when the crew used the appliance from the Parnell brigade to safely access the clock tower about 7pm.

"Initially we pumped litres of water on to it but we had to pull it [clock tower] apart to get in," Quensell said.

"It flared up but it was a controlled process."

Quensell praised the work of all the firefighters involved and said it had been a "great save". Quick thinking by a senior firefighter meant extra resources were called to the scene early.

"We have to look at what we saved rather than what we have lost."

Firefighters work to extinguish the fire in the Old Town Hall. Photo / Kristin Edge
Firefighters work to extinguish the fire in the Old Town Hall. Photo / Kristin Edge

A fire team had been onsite overnight to ensure there were no flare ups and to guard the scene. Two fire investigators had arrived about 7am today and would spend the day digging through the ashes to try and pin point where the fire started and how.

Quensell said Fire and Emergency would be liaising with Whangārei District Council staff today to discuss where the tenants, mostly groups offering community services, would operate from now.

"Hopefully we can get in there and recover some of their belongings today," he said.
They would also be working on a plan to secure the building for the weekend.

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Firefighters chainsaw into the copper cap on the clock tower of Whangārei's Town Hall to extinguish the last of the devastating fire. Photo/ Kristin Edge
Firefighters chainsaw into the copper cap on the clock tower of Whangārei's Town Hall to extinguish the last of the devastating fire. Photo/ Kristin Edge