Business, Emergency

Tea towels likely cause in Forum fire

Fire services rushed to put out the fire at the Forum in February this year. Photo: Matt Brown.

Tumble-dried tea towels are being blamed as the most likely cause of a blaze which caused about $1.5 million dollars of damage.

Official investigations into the Forum fire in Blenheim have revealed the hot tea towels likely sparked the fire.

The inner-city fire in February this year caused disruption, damage and heartache for several local business and left a hefty bill for building owners.

Building owner Toni Gillan says the consequences of the fire have been devastating.

She says the building is still being remediated but in the meantime CBD Café owners, who declined to comment, had moved out.

There were two fire investigations as well as an electrical expert brought in from Wellington to determine the cause of the fire, Toni says.

But there was no definitive cause found.

Emergency services were called to the CBD Café in February this year.

Witnesses at the scene at the time described billowing, black smoke coming from the popular eatery.

The café and other businesses were closed at the time and no one was hurt.

The dozen tenants at the central development went without power for about a month – some much longer.

Many businesses – like the popular Dolce restaurant, having to shut their doors until services were restored.

The Marlborough Cancer Society found new premises and aren’t likely to return, Toni says.

Fire & Emergency New Zealand specialist fire investigator Craig Piner says insurance specialists believed the tea towels self-ignited.

“They believe that these towels didn’t spend long enough in the dryer’s cool cycle before being placed in a store room, self-heating and starting the fire,” Craig says.

“They therefore believe that the fire cause was accidental self-ignition of cleaning towels.”

Craig says neither the insurance company or Fire & Emergency found evidence to suggest that it was a deliberately lit fire and found nothing suspicious surrounding the cause.

“This is a good example of materials self-igniting after washing and drying.

“We remind people who use clothes driers to ensure that the full cool down cycle is completed before removing clothes from the drier.

“This allows clothes etc the opportunity to cool sufficiently and prevents this sort of fire occurring.”

Several restaurants have gone up in flames from the spontaneous ignition of oil-contaminated tea towels.

It took more than a dozen fire appliances to extinguish a blaze in a Hamilton restaurant, in 2016, caused by tea towels that had been pulled out of a dryer and left in a basket in the rear of the restaurant.

A fire at West Coast school, in 2015, was caused by rags and tea towels in a clothes dryer combusting about 20 minutes after the dryer switched off.

CBD Café owners declined to comment.

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