Fire damages Anglican cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand

Posted Aug 12, 2020

[Anglican Taonga] St. Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin, near Otago Harbor on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island, has sustained damage to its apse roof and sanctuary after a fire broke out in the cathedral roof at 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 10.

The dean of Dunedin, Tony Curtis, told Anglican Taonga that it was sad news to wake to before dawn. “This was not the start to the week that I wanted. But thanks be to God no one was hurt.” he said.

Speaking outside the cathedral cordon this morning, the dean said that although the blaze had grim potential, once the sun came up there didn’t appear to be any structural damage.

“There are holes in the roof, and the sanctuary, main nave aisle and front pews are drenched – there’s a lot of ash and water damage. There’s going to be a lot of cleaning up to be done.”

But while the fire left a mess, it’s not anything like the fires in the cathedrals of Paris or Nantes, he said, adding, “and it’s nothing in comparison to what our brothers and sisters in Christchurch have had to deal with.”

When he arrived at the cathedral at 4:20 a.m. local time Tuesday, he found that fire crews from Dunedin City Station had already contained the blaze.

The fire had taken hold in the cathedral’s apse roof, which is in the newer sanctuary extension added to the 1919 stone nave in 1971.

Senior fire station officer Robbie Torrance reported that when pinex-backed ceiling panels beneath the slate roof had caught alight, the water needed to extinguish them had waterlogged the pinex, which will now fall apart. That means the central fan-shaped portion of the apse ceiling and roof will need to be replaced.

Beneath the flaming roof, both parquet flooring and the sanctuary carpet were covered in ash and pitted with burn marks, then thoroughly waterlogged during the night’s events. At midday today, the cathedral crypt remained flooded with water left over from the firefighters’ work.

Bishop of Dunedin Steven Benford said he was shocked at the “very sad” news. “We say that it is the community of believers who are the church, not the buildings. But these buildings are precious to us too. They look after us and we need to look after them.”