"The Ballantynes Department Store Fire Disaster" Christchurch, 18 November 1947 (1992)
AuthorsNorton, D.C., Gordon, B.show all
This report presents information regarding the Ballantynes Department Store Fire Disaster, which occurred at Christchurch, New Zealand, on the 18th November 1947. The complex was situated where the present building stands at the intersection of Cashel and Colombo Streets. The fire was first noticed at 3.31 p.m. approximately and the magnitude of the fire was such that within an hour an acre of building had been gutted by fire. The intensity of the blaze was such that flames were observed leaping 300 feet into the air from the top floors of the building at the height of the fire. Heat could be felt 150 yards from the building. The pall of smoke was estimated to have been a mile wide and rising upwards of four to five thousand feet, and was visible thirty miles away. Over six thousand gallons of water per minute were used to fight the fire with no impact. Witnesses described fire spreading through the building "like a flame thrower". The report focuses on several aspects of this disaster: 1. Examination of the structural aspects and building features. 2. Occupancy hazards applicable to Ballantynes at the time of the fire. 3. Identification of circumstances as to how the building features contributed to the spread of the fire, and loss of life. 4. By-laws, statutes and codes in force in 1947 relating to fire protection and prevention, safety of staff and safe means of egress and whether Ballantynes complied with such requirements. In conclusion we discuss how the fire could have been prevented from reaching the magnitude it did and how the tragic loss of life could have been averted. We have not compared the Building and Egress Codes of 1947 with those existing today as our approach has been to demonstrate via the Ballantynes fire the hazards that caused this disaster to occur, with the result of the deaths of 41 people trapped in the building.