Club officials estimated that there were about 1,000 patrons in the stand when the warning was given. The fire tender used by the Club on racedays arrived at the stand soon after the smoke was first noticed. The smoke thickened and it became apparent that the fire had a very strong hold.
The fire tender crew, assisted by racecourse staff and members of the public, ran a hose quickly from the fire hydrant near the corner of the stand to the front and played water on the fire from above until the first engine arrived about five minutes later. A few items of catering equipment piled on the ground just outside the stand were removed but most of the caterers’ equipment was lost in the blaze. By 5:30pm thick smoke was pouring out of the building and while the firemen attacked the fire the crowd spilled out onto the race track and many gathered on the embankment at the top of the straight. The crowd on the course at the height of the fire was estimated at 20,000 and many went to the inside of the track and to the birdcage to obtain a better view. It was announced over the public address system that the last race would be run later than scheduled and the crowd was asked to keep away from the fire and let the firemen get a really good go at it.
No one was injured although one of the firemen who dived clear when the burning roof collapsed was kept under observation in the ambulance room for a time before being allowed to return to duties. A newspaper report on the fire said that the first notice of the fire given to the public was a laconic announcement over the course loud speaker system “Please evacuate the stand”. There was no panic and the controlling of the crowd was no problem to the police according to Inspector J G J Fitzpatrick, who was in charge. He stated that the crowd behaved excellently. The crowd was kept well back from the Stand on the lawns in front and behind but as more firemen arrived and the smoke thickened the crowd was moved off the lawns and the concrete area in front of the Totalisators, which was soon covered with water. The extension ladder was brought into operation but failed to be of any help as the dense smoke blinded the firemen operating it.
By 6:30pm the stand was gutted and by 7:00pm only part of the end wall near the Stewards Stand and the big chimney at the other end of the building were standing. Flames were still licking the wreckage at 7:30pm and the Chief Fire Officer, Mr L R Osmond, predicted that it would still be smoldering the following morning. The fire which was at first thought to have started in the kitchen occurred after two earlier outbreaks in the Stand and one in the Tea Kiosk had been extinguished. The Chief Fire Officer said the fire took hold on the centre floor well inside the building and the sprinkler system which was installed after fire destroyed the outside Public Stand 8 years previously did not hold the fire and it burst away along the ceiling above the sprinklers. Mr Osmond said that the wind and the cavity nature of the construction of the building made the firemen’s efforts ineffectual and because of the nature of the construction it was almost impossible to play water onto the seat of the fire.
The New Zealand Free-For-All, the last race on the programme was run at 6:00pm forty minutes late when the fire was at its height. The event was won by Cardigan Bay with Scottish Command second and the appropriately named Smokeaway third. Before the race could be run several hundred persons had to be cleared from the track and at the conclusion the horses were driven back along the straight and led off through a small gate near the mile and five furlong barrier.
The loss of the stand was a major blow to the Metropolitan Trotting Club and the administrators of the Course for it left the Club with greatly reduced accommodation and catering facilities for the Public on the third and forth days of the Meeting. At an emergency meeting the Committee decided that limited seating would be available on the Members Stand for the Public but there would be no stand accommodation for visitors. The Canterbury Jockey Club and the New Brighton Trotting Club offered assistance to the Metropolitan Club and as a result there was extra seating available on the banks in front of the stand areas. A marquee, which was used on Cup and Show Days, was retained and half the Tea Kiosk made available to the Public as a cafeteria and the other half as a buffet luncheon area. A public bar was provided by erecting a marquee behind the burnt out stand. After investigations it was agreed that the fire did not begin in the kitchen as many thought but underneath the seating about three rows from the front at the Western end. The general opinion was that a cigarette butt was probably the cause.
Many persons commented on the extraordinary lapse of time that occurred before the arrival of the Fire Brigade. The Chairman of the Fire Board, Mr W R Campbell, stated “I have checked with the Chief Fire Officer and found that there was positively no delay. The first call was registered from the sprinkler system at 5:01pm and the first machine from Headquarters reached the fire six minutes later. Taking into account the amount of traffic on the route at the time it can be fairly said that this represented a smart response”.
Three of the four major fires at Addington occurred during the Cup Meeting, the first on Cup Day 1916 and the latter two on Show Days 1953 and 1961. On each occasion a strong Nor’ West wind had been blowing.
On the Sunday following the fire the Directors considered the problems associated with the loss and at a later meeting the representatives of Wormald Brothers explained why the stand protected by their sprinkler system had been destroyed. The System installed had conformed to the Underwriters requirements and it was obvious that these would need to be amended to include the provision of sprinkler heads in the small areas directly under the seating as was eventually installed in the Members Stand.
Credit: NZMTC: Historical Notes compiled by D C Parker
The last race was late and the fire was first noticed about 15 minutes after the race when hundreds were still at the payout windows. Smoke was seen in the grandstand and the Christchurch Fire Brigade was called at 6:09pm but before the units arrived flames were breaking through the roof. The seat of the fire appeared to be in the cafeteria in the middle of the building. The roof of the grandstand was of semi-cantilevered construction with few pillars and it made a huge scoop to receive the full force of the Nor’ West wind sweeping across the course. By 6:25pm the building was engulfed with flames so hot that no one could approach within fifty yards. The roof fell in at 6:37pm and thereon the remaining super structures continued to fall within the shell formed by the reinforced concrete base. Debris outside the stand area was almost entirely confined to shattered glass. Behind the grandstand the small canteen from which pies, soft drinks and other goods were sold was badly scorched. The women’s cloakroom, constructed of concrete and backing onto the Showgrounds loose boxes, escaped damage. The Christchurch Fire Brigade had been called earlier in the day to a fire in the Leger Stand believed to have been started from a cigarette butt on the flooring but this was extinguished by grounds staff and the police. Another call was received at 3:45pm but again there was no damage. When the alarm for the big fire was given at 6:09pm one unit each from Headquarters and Sydenham Stations was dispatched. A radio message for assistance was sent at 6:20pm to which another Headquarters engine and the new Land Rover unit responded.
At a joint meeting of the of the Committee of the Club and the Directors of Addington Trotting Course Limited, owners of the property, held on Saturday 14th November 1953 it was reported that the extra cost replacement value of the stand was £65,400 while the indemnity cover was £25,000, the replacement value £47,025, Architects fees £3,750 and demolition £3,000. It was decided to claim for the full amount of the extra cost replacement cover forthwith. At the meeting the provision of temporary accommodation was considered in view of the Royal Meeting to be conducted by the Club on 21st January 1954 when H M Queen Elizabeth and H R H The Duke of Edinburgh would be in attendance. Although no definite decision about rebuilding the grandstand was reached it was stated that the intention was to erect an up-to-date concrete stand in the outside enclosure as soon as possible and that there would be no temporary stand before building operations started.
The grandstand destroyed was about 20 years old and was designed by Mr J S Guthrie. During the fire, the Nor’ West wind gusted to fifty three miles an hour. Hundreds of trotting patrons were still on the ground with many waiting at the payout windows of the totalisator. Jumping events at the show also had not long finished and there were still hundreds at the Showgrounds. The Canterbury A&P Association’s loss resulting from the fire was estimated at £1,000.
The Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, Mr L R Osmond, in reporting to the Directors stated that the water supply at the course was inadequate and it would have been necessary to have hydrants within 200 feet of the fire to be effective. He suggested a ring main should be installed and further investigations made for improvements in the system to fight any future fires. In December arrangements were made for Mr W J Taylor, the Fire Boards Inspecting Officer, to take charge of fire patrols at all the Club’s Meetings.
Credit: NZMTC: Historical Notes compiled by D C Parker
In August 1952 it was decided that a fire alarm call point with direct access to the Fire Brigade, should be installed on the grounds.
At a meeting of the Grounds Committee in December 1951 the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade stated in a letter that nine small fires had occurred on the stands on the third day of the Cup Meeting and he raised the question of the installation of a sprinkler system. This was referred to the Committees of the two Clubs.
A fire in the Members Stand at the Cup Meeting 1949 prompted the Committee of the NZMTC to ask the CPTC Committee to reconsider their decision not to proceed with the construction of a ramp from the top floor of the Members Stand. This Suggestion was fully investigated and plans prepared but the proposal was not proceeded with.
In August 1944 an undertaking was received from the Christchurch Fire Board that in the event of a fire the whole of their resources would be available at Addington Racecourse provided no major fire was burning in the City at the time.
In November 1928 a fire was put out in the Main Stand and a person who had assisted was given an order from the Club for a pair of new boots as his were severely damaged.
The outside Public Grandstand was burnt down in September 1926 and the origin of the fire remains a mystery. The first sign was at 5:00am and the Caretaker and Fire Brigade were reported to be on the scene promptly. As seems to be the pattern with grandstands of this period the fire quickly gained such a hold that nothing could be done to save the building and a few hours after the outbreak all that remained was a heap of embers. The loss of this stand was a severe blow to the NZMTC almost on the eve of its three day Cup Meeting and also to the Canterbury Park Trotting Club whose most important Meeting was at New Year. The two Clubs received a great deal of sympathy in the loss stand which was much patronized and with the Cup Meeting being in November the opinion was expressed that the public could be inconvenienced very considerably if the weather was unfavourable. The Executives of the Canterbury Park and NZ Metropolitan Clubs met promptly to consider what steps could be taken to replace the stand and to provide accommodation for the outside public. In August 1928 it was minuted that a tender of £8,000 submitted by Hammett and Sons, for the erection of an outside Public Stand was accepted.
Small fires in the grandstands were not uncommon and in 1923 a claim for £6/6/- was received from a patron whose suit had been damaged in a small fire in the Stewards Stand.
FIRE AT B JARDEN'S STABLES: 8 NOV 1917