Mar 08, 2024

Fire destroys vacant lodge on Napier’s Marine Parade, investigation underway

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Police and fire specialists are investigating an early morning blaze which destroyed a vacant, century-old beachfront Napier landmark which has accommodated backpackers from dozens of countries.

The single-level wooden building, well-known for its street-side veranda on Marine Parade but also backing onto a carpark off Hastings St and the Napier CBD, was originally a private residence but was converted to backpackers’ accommodation as the Waterfront Lodge hostel more than 30 years ago, and was known as Kiwi Keith’s Quality Backpackers when it closed about four years ago

The building has occasionally been used by squatters and has been the scene of at least two small fires reported by Hawke’s Bay Today.

Police confirmed the latest blaze was “suspicious” and they were working with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) in relation to the cause.

The scene remained cordoned during the day, with police officers as guards off both the Parade and Hastings St.

The building burst into flames about 12.15am, and most of the property was razed to the ground within 20 minutes.

There was damage to a two-storey building which was part of the same complex and a concrete home on the northern side.

A police officer passed minutes before the fire erupted and noticed nothing unusual, but after a brief vehicle-stop, noticed the smoke barely 100 metres away and then saw flames billow out from the beachfront veranda.

A couple asleep on the top floor of their neighbouring home were woken by their smoke alarm. They fled as police banged on the front door. Heat from the fire broke several second and third-level windows fronting the parade.

The buildings are about two properties south of the famed “Six Sisters”, a series of two-storey residences built in the 19th century and, like the destroyed building, survivors of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake.

Fenz assistant commander Warrick Le Quesne, of Napier, said the service was alerted by multiple calls. The first crew out of the Napier station saw the flames “from quite a distance” and immediately upgraded the alarm en route, bringing in crews, including off-duty staff, from Napier and Hastings.

The frontage, stretching about 40 metres along a sector converted to a one-way parking precinct in recent years, was ablaze as more than 30 firefighters arrived.

They fought the fire with low-pressure hoses from the Marine Parade side and with a Napier-based Bronto aerial appliance from a car park between Lighting Direct and Number One Shoe Warehouse (formerly the site of Rebel Sport), off Hastings St.

Hato Hone St John Ambulance crews also attended.

No one was thought to have been in the building at the time of the blaze, although police were seeking a man known to have been on the site late on Monday afternoon.

There had been other small fires, some scarring the white concrete exterior of the three-level home next door. Fleeing resident Anne Brown said she had only recently been thinking about painting over the scorches.

In January 2019, an Auckland family announced the purchase of the site, and the adjoining carpark and premises off Hastings St with plans to build a hotel of about 100 rooms.

The pandemic stalled the plans, leading to an announcement in September 2021 that the old building would be refurbished as a type of motel accommodation, retaining the frontage for historic appeal.

But that also never happened and the site was recently put back up for sale, with the hotel resource consent in place.

The first alarm is believed to have been raised by Bianca Warren and Joe “Ballzy” Hermon as they drove past on Hastings St, Hermon stopping their van as he spotted fire coming out of the “back” side of a building.

“At a guess it would have started around midnight, because it was 12.15am when I called fire emergency,” Warren told Hawke’s Bay Today.

“Because we were concerned about the potential spread to the neighbouring property, Joe started yelling out like a mad man from the Number One shoe warehouse carpark “fire , wake up!” she said.

Warren said she “jumped back into the van and started pushing on the horn and also wolf-whistling really loudly to help make enough noise to raise the alert”.

“Joe actually wore out his vocal chords yelling so loudly but he just wanted to alert the neighbours to evacuate,” she said.

“We watched it go from what was Kiwi Keith’s business to a crumbly hot pile of rubble,” Warren said. “It’s amazing to feel the heat intensify and witness how quickly a building/home can be wiped out by fire.”

Le Quesne said about 2am it would still be a long night for some of the officers, who had been on watch since 6pm.

The roof had collapsed, leaving the bed of the fire covered by roofing iron which had to be removed sheet by sheet to complely extinguish the fire.

Doug Laing is a senior reporter based in Napier with Hawke’s Bay Today, and has 50 years of journalism experience in news gathering, including breaking news, sports, local events, issues, and personalities.

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