Sunday, November 28

Fire in historic Christchurch building prompts evacuations

An abandoned building in Christchurch caught fire for the second time in three years this morning, forcing some to evacuate their homes.

Antonio Hall after the fire.

Antonio Hall after a fire in 2019.
Photo: RNZ / Nicholas Pointon

The heritage-listed Antonio Hall has been largely abandoned for the past decade, but residents say someone needs to take responsibility for it.

Resident Marlene Hoods was awakened at 3.30 am by a firefighter banging on her window, saying she had to get out.

“It went on and on, banging on my window, and I felt like saying, ‘I’m not deaf!’

Antonio Hall, a heritage listed building built in 1904 that had been abandoned since the 2011 earthquakes, had caught fire again.

She and her neighbors were evacuated from their homes until just before 7 a.m., when firefighters brought the blaze under control.

Crews were still on site today, buffering critical points, but after sustaining major damage in the 2011 earthquake, it was not safe for them to enter.

Canterbury Fire and Emergency Commander David Berry said it was a busy morning.

“It was what we called a third fire alarm, so we had about eleven appliances, about 40/50 people, and a revolving ladder,” he said.

“He was well involved. It’s an abandoned building that caught fire about two years ago, it’s just been there.

“We were more concerned with the exposures than the buildings, all the residential properties around them. So we covered them and extinguished the fire at the same time.”

The collapsed building has had a historic life: it has been a seminary, a private hostel for students at the University of Canterbury, and a place to rent.

It is now privately owned and has remained largely abandoned for the past 10 years.

Local resident Tom Challies said there have been some squatters.

“People used to go there for photoshoots and things like that, but apparently that doesn’t happen anymore because it’s not safe.

“I guess it’s just, either bring it back to its former glory or make a move. It’s just another stale Christchurch monstrosity to deal with.”

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A major fire at Antonio Hall in 2019.
Photo: Supplied / Fire and Emergency

Heritage New Zealand area manager for Canterbury and West Coast, Fiona Wykes, said it was a shame to see the building in such condition.

“We are very, very sad and disappointed, to be honest, that this has happened again.”

“It is quite shocking and disturbing for us. The building and grounds have always been a major landmark on Riccarton Road.

“So it’s a pretty key site in that area.”

The council issued a dangerous construction advisory after the 2019 fire led to the destruction of nearly a third of the mansion, but it was lifted after the owners completed work to get the building back into operation.

Wykes said it was one of the largest private homes in the city and it had great potential.

“If you look at nearby Deans Bush and places like that, you can get an idea of ​​what kind of place it could be,” he said.

“And various options have been suggested over the years, but sadly, none of them have materialized.

“Disappointment has been the key element in the last few years, I think, just watching her fall into a bad shape. It’s been really sad.”

But David Berry of Fire and Emergency said there would likely be more destruction in the future.

“We are certain that we do not want anyone around here, it is quite unstable with the walls.

“We were talking about demolishing parts of the building to make it safe before we go.”

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