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Aotearoa Remembers 75 Years Since Ballantynes Fire

This Friday 18 November marks the 75th anniversary of the fire at Ballantynes department store that resulted in the tragic loss of 41 lives.

Kei ngā mate, koutou i riro i te parekura nui - e tangi tonu ana, e tangi tonu ana, e kore e wareware. Kei te pae o mahara koutou mō ake tonu, nā reira moe mai rā i te roto i ngā atawhai, i ngā ringa manaaki o tō tātou kaihanga. (To those who lost their lives as a part of this tragedy, we grieve your loss and we will never forget. Rest well in the embrace of the creator).

"As well as the truly devastating loss for the victims’ families and the store, the fire represented an immense loss to the Christchurch community which continues to be felt to this day," says Glenis Philip-Barbara (Ngāti Uepōhatu, Ngāti Porou), Pou Mataaho o Te Hua, Deputy Chief Executive, Delivery at Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

39 staff and two auditors who had been working in the building were killed in the blaze. An estimated 250-300 people were shopping at Ballantynes when the fire began, which had 458 staff.

A civic funeral was held for the victims of the fire on Sunday 23 November 1947. Around 800 family and friends filled Christchurch Cathedral for the service, with more gathered in the Square outside, followed by a graveside service attended by approximately 10,000 people.

A Commission of Inquiry found that while the fire was an accident, the tragedy provided many key learnings, including that a quick response was critical in helping to avoid loss of life.

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"While the recommendation from the Commission of Inquiry to set up national fire service was not implemented until 1976, the Ballantynes fire led to significant changes to the way public buildings in Aotearoa safeguard staff and customers, and to the administration of the fire brigade.

"The resulting Fire Service Act of 1949 set up the Fire Service Council, which coordinated local body and volunteer fire services, directing training, and distributing equipment nationally for the first time.

"It is crucial we continue to remember events like the Ballantynes fire, although they are painful, so that we can learn from history and ensure they are not repeated. The fact that the Ballantynes fire remains our worst loss of life from fire proves the enduring legacy of this tragedy," says Glenis Philip-Barbara.

The Christchurch Transitional Cathedral is holding a public memorial service at 5.30pm on Friday 18 November, 234 Hereford Street, Christchurch.

Additional Information:

More information about the Ballantynes Fire can be found on Te Ara and NZHistory.

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