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About 10.20a.m. the fire bell rang out the alarm, and residents quickly appeared at their doors with a look of mild curiosity upon their faces.
From the volume and direction of the smoke it was quickly realised that the inevitable conflagration - prophesied thousands of times - was at last about to become an accomplished fact.
Upon arrival on the scene it was seen that the painter's shop and dwelling (combined), owned and occupied by Mr David Taylor, was fairly well on fire in the interior. Some few minutes elapsed before the arrival of the brigade with the chemical engine, but it soon got to work, and after applying the chemicals for a few minutes a temporary diminution of the flames gave a momentary hope that its efforts would be successful.
This hope was quickly dispelled as dense volumes of black, suffocating smoke from the inflammable paints and varnishes gave way to a burst of flame. Then the utter futility of the inadequate means at the brigade's disposal in fighting a fire, in the absence of a water supply, was quickly demonstrated.
From this time it was realised by the large crowd of spectators that, with the strong westerly wind blowing, the block of wooden buildings to leeward was doomed.
The efforts of scores of willing helpers was then directed to saving movable property from these buildings, and these were successful in a marked degree.Up to the time when the first building was nearing the height of its blaze the westerly wind had encouraged a hope that the right-of-way between it and Mr Bringans's two-storey stationer's shop and dwelling might prove sufficient to save the latter, but the wind veered round a couple of points, and blew the flames direct on to the other buildings.
The crowd then resigned itself to the inevitable, realising the hopelessness of the situation, and could only watch the destruction of the following buildings:- Mr Bringans's two-storeyed shop and dwelling, Mr V. C. Stephens's Excelsior Tea Rooms and residence, Mr James Haig's stationary and fancy goods shop and residence, Mr David Taylor's painter's shop and dwelling, Mr Alex. Brown's jeweller's shop.
Despite the terrific heat, numbers of young fellows continued at risk to themselves to extinguish flying sparks, which were being carried in all directions, to the imminent danger of other properties.
An instance of what bears the appearance of profiteering in house property came under notice at the sitting of the Otago Land Board yesterday, when a house which was for sale in August was again made the subject of application for a grant under the Discharged Soldiers' Settlement Act.
At the August sitting of the board the selling price of the house was 455, and a grant was made to the intending purchaser, but for some reason he found he was unable to complete the deal.
Yesterday the board had before it an application for a loan upon the same house, but in the short interval which has elapsed the price had risen by 45 and the figure asked for it being 500.
''It is greatly to be deplored,'' said Mr Sadd, ''that returned soldiers should have to put up with that sort of thing.''
- ODT, 14.11.1919
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