Thursday, January 27, 2005


Christchurch's Cashel Chambers went up in smoke this week. 120 years of history gone in an afternoon of flames and excitement. It's a sad story really, and one that gets repeated on an all too frequent basis. A historic building becomes rundown, it needs refurbishment but the cost of doing it to meet heritage and planning standards are egregious. What happens? The building stands abandoned and derelict as its owner is unable to knock it down, but can't afford (or is unwilling) to restore it. Over time it becomes a hangout for the homeless, streetkids, and vandals. Then one day the inevitable happens ... it burns down. Sadly it happened just after deals had been reached to preserve parts of its facade. So the building that was the site of the first Farmers Co-operative is gone forever.

Fortunately in this case no-one died. Though it could have easily been different. There were people in the building when it caught fire and firefighters actually removed a few of them before the fire really took hold. However there were at least two people that were unaccounted for which had the police nervous for a while. Their problem was that the people involved go by nicknames and pseudonyms and aren't noted for being punctual and checking in with friends and family on a regular basis. Police weren't sure exactly who they might be looking for. However the Fire Service were fairly confident they'd got everyone out. Luckily they were proved to be right. I remember another fire in a derelict house on Ferry Road about 10 years ago that killed a number of streetkids. It wasn't something I wanted to be a witness to then, and I'm glad the experience wasn't repeated.

Police say it was an arson. Now the task is to find out who did it. The smart money at the moment suggests either the homeless people that were squatting there, or young kids who were vandalising the place. Betting odds are about even on this one.

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