Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village
The Examiner newspaper print shop was destroyed and the adjoining fire station damaged in the blaze, which took hold in the village’s main street about 1.15am.
Police arson squad chemists and Country Fire Authority (CFA) investigators inspected the blackened area yesterday afternoon.
Warrnambool CFA operations officer Henry Barton said investigators found significant damage to electrical wiring in the print shop and it was believed the damage happened prior to the fire.
The fire caused about $200,000 damage at the village which has been busy with school holiday visitors.
Sergeant Chris Moloney, of Warrnambool police, said the fire was initially treated as suspicious, as the cause was not obvious.
Resident Rob Quantrelle rushed to the tourist attraction with his wife Sally after noticing the fire from his nearby Timor Street home.
Arriving home late after a night out, Mr Quantrelle said he first saw a plume of smoke and red lights coming from the village. “I thought they might have been testing the sound and light show. Then I looked again and thought it looked like a fire,” he said.
“The fire got a lot worse while we were there and we thought it could be really bad because a lot of embers were falling on the old buildings but luckily the wind was going south.”
Mr Barton said three trucks and about 35 firefighters attended the blaze.
Due to restricted access, the first fire truck on the scene could only progress halfway into the site with teams running the hoses in from there. Mr Barton said the fire took about 30 minutes to control.
Warrnambool tourism services manager Peter Abbott said the fire was disappointing. “The buildings themselves can be replaced, but the contents can’t.”
He said it appeared the printing shop was totally destroyed, along with the historic presses and a large amount of lead type. “That’s melting away and oozing out of the trays,” Mr Abbott said. “We had a pretty complete collection and it will be hard to replace.”
While the fire station was still standing and its roof was still intact, much of the framework had been burnt, he said.
Flagstaff Hill hosted much of the local collection of old CFA trophies, awards and photographs.
Mr Barton said there were no historic vehicles in the station, but the brigade had loaned a couple of old fire reels for display which were undamaged.
About 90 per cent of the brigade’s memorabilia was able to be saved, although some had been blackened and smoke damaged.
Despite the fire, it was business as usual at Flagstaff Hill yesterday with the doors opening at 9am and the school holiday program and Shipwrecked sound and laser show continuing.
“It’s a sad irony that this week we’ve celebrated the 140th anniversary of The Standard and next year the 150th anniversary of the Warrnambool fire brigade,” mayor Jacinta Ermacora said.
“To lose some of the historical items that tell the story of our community and about who we are and where we come from is really sad.”
She expects the council will re-establish a display at the village that recognises The Examiner, which was established in 1851 as the city’s first newspaper. The masthead was sold in 1880 to the proprietors of The Standard, which had been running for eight years, and then absorbed by the company.
Cr Ermacora, who is a volunteer with the Warrnambool CFA, said a large number of the brigade’s volunteers had worked to build the village fire station and would be upset to see it badly damaged.
Four brigades also attended a haystack fire at a Booringa Road property at Princetown yesterday morning which destroyed about 150 bales.