Greymouth church destroyed in suspected arson

Greymouth branch president Lyell Kitchin. Photo: Greymouth Star
Greymouth branch president Lyell Kitchin. Photo: Greymouth Star

The Greymouth faithful of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints is devastated after their church was destroyed in a suspected arson.

The Karoro building, a neatly kept landmark at the southern entrance to Greymouth since 1992, was gutted in the fire early on Wednesday.

Police and fire investigators were sifting through the charred remains for clues as to how the fire started.

It came just 24 hours after another Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints building in Christchurch was destroyed by arson.

Emergency services were notified of the Karoro fire shortly before 2.30am and when the Greymouth Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived the church was engulfed in flames.

Fire chief Lee Swinburn said three Greymouth appliances, with help from Cobden and Brunner, enabled them to quickly "knock down" the fire in about the first 10 minutes of arrival. About 35 firefighters were at the scene.

"Initial entry by crews managed to cut the fire off quickly, which prevented total loss," Mr Swinburn said.

The brigades stayed on the scene for a further 90 minutes dampening down the remains.

Whoever called the fire in did so just in time and helped prevent the total loss of the wood and vinyl palisade building, although the fire had devastated the main meeting area at the south end of the church.

Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints Greymouth branch president Lyell Kitchin said the shock of seeing their church so badly burned was stressful and emotional.

In light of the Christchurch fire on Monday morning it would seem the Greymouth fire could be arson, Mr Kitchin said.

"I had a bit of a cry a couple of times, let the members know. It's a bit of a shock. I'm just trying to find somewhere else to have our meetings on Sunday.

"The police haven't really called out if it's arson yet. From my opinion I think it was because another church building got arsoned in Christchurch, so it might be related."

Mr Kitchin said their church had about 15 to 20 members who regularly gathered on Sunday, as well as numerous visitors passing through town.

"We're quite close, like family. It's quite depressing. Any kind of church goes through this, it affects the members especially when it's dedicated."

The building was insured and any rebuild would be managed by the church central body.

However, some mainly computer-based records had been lost in the fire.

Acting Sergeant Matt Wood, of Greymouth, later confirmed the fire was being treated as suspicious and the CIB had started a forensic examination.

"A member of the public drove by and noticed some fire at the front of the building. By the time Fire and Emergency NZ has got there it was well involved and the inside has been gutted," Mr Wood said.

West Coast police had "not ruled in or out" a link to the suspicious fire of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints building in Upper Riccarton early on Monday. That fire was also discovered about 2.15am.

"We're aware of that. We're not sure if they are linked (but) we are aware and looking into that side."

- By Brendon McMahon

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