41 die in Ballantyne’s fire in Christchurch

Pete's Kiwi Korner


18 November 1947

Fighting the fire at Ballantyne’s department store (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-5936-48)

The fire in Christchurch’s prestigious department store was one of the worst in New Zealand’s history.

When the fire began in a basement about 3.30 p.m., 250–300 people were shopping at Ballantyne’s, which had a staff of 458. The staff member who saw smoke coming from a stairwell asked a colleague to call the fire brigade.

Tragically, the brigade did not log this call. By the time firefighters arrived at 3.48 – ill-equipped to tackle anything more than a fire in a cellar – the blaze was out of control.

However, staff on the ground floor assumed the fire could be contained and no general evacuation was ordered. Staff returning from a tea break were told to go back to work, and customers entered the store as late at 3.56.

As the smoke…

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