'Really special place' razed

Fire crews work in vain to save a historic  homestead near Queenstown yesterday morning. Photo by Blair Pattinson.
Fire crews work in vain to save a historic homestead near Queenstown yesterday morning. Photo by Blair Pattinson.

A woman's scream pierced the air as flames, ripping through a historic homestead, lit up the sky near Queenstown yesterday, destroying a property which had stood for well over 100 years.

Billowing smoke fused with heavy fog while the Lower Shotover Rd property owners, Phil and Jane George, of Sydney, watched, helpless, as fire crews from Queenstown, Frankton and Arrowtown tried to extinguish the flames.

Former owners Sarah and John Cameron, who live on a neighbouring property, joined the couple.

Mrs Cameron was visibly upset at the loss of what she described as ''a really special place''.

The Georges bought the four-bedroom property from the Camerons in 2006, working with Mr Cameron on a restoration and extension project completed in 2010.

Mr George said the insured property, which sat on about 12ha, was valued at $5 million.

''It's not about the money,'' he said.

''It's about the heritage and the history of the [area].

''It's the heritage for the township and all of the possessions that we've collected around the world ... that we'll miss the most.''

Included in the items he suspected were lost in the fire were antiques and a Goldie painting.

He said the homestead was built in the late 19th century and was part of one of the area's first dairy farms, Cloverdale.

It was originally owned by Jessie and John Gantley Allan and later taken over by Jack and Joan Allan.

Mr George told the Otago Daily Times it had been a spur of the moment decision to visit Queenstown for a long weekend with friends John Mills and Greg Clarke.

''We've been coming here for 15 years.

''I rang [my wife] and said 'It's raining in Sydney, let's go to Queenstown'.

''We came down here for a bit of excitement and we got it.''

After enjoying a ''lovely afternoon'' at Amisfield and watching the All Blacks beat England on Saturday night, the group returned to the property and went to bed.

About 7am yesterday Mr Mills and Mr Clarke, staying in a bedroom in the historic part of the home, were woken by smoke alarms.

''John and Grant ... came running through the house screaming `fire','' Mr George said.

''I laughed and said 'What are you talking about?'

''When I came downstairs, it [the fire] was in the ceiling.''

He suspected the fire could have been caused by a mouse chewing through an electrical wire in the ceiling.

The group managed to salvage Mr Mills' and Mr Clarke's unpacked suitcases as they fled the burning building, but had no means of calling emergency services.

Fortunately a neighbour saw the smoke, arrived at the property and called 111.

Frankton Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Grant Beuilly said about 20 firefighters from Arrowtown, Frankton and Queenstown attended the fire, including four using breathing apparatus.

It took ''roughly a couple of hours'' to bring the blaze under control.

Water was pumped from water tanks and a nearby pond, Mr Beuilly said.

Witness Blair Pattinson said the fire lit up the sky and was visible from the Shotover Bridge on State Highway 6.

He arrived at the scene about 7.40am and heard ''a lady screaming'', but otherwise the scene was ''very calm and organised'', with fire crews working together to bring the blaze under control.

As the sun rose and the flames died, the extent of the damage became clear.

The new part of the building, where the Georges had been sleeping, stood untouched, while just steps away the historic homestead was in ruins.

Mr Mills and Mr Clarke were taken by ambulance to Lakes District Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Mr George praised the fire crews for their efforts, describing them as ''efficient, effective, diligent and compassionate''.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

It is the second historic building destroyed by fire in the Wakatipu area in just over a fortnight.

On May 23, the 131-year-old Paradise Homestead was razed after lightning struck a nearby power pole, resulting in a surge to the homestead's power system.