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Fire engulfs Rotorua church

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/02/2017

Central Rotorua is wreathed in palls of smoke after a fire that engulfed St John's Presbyterian church was doused by firefighters.

A dozen engines were at the blaze on Wednesday with water being pumped from several blocks away.

The roof caved in shortly after the brigade arrived around 6pm.

The church was built on its present site in the 1980s and was constructed of brick but with a lot of woodwork inside.

A prime feature was its stained glass windows donated by earlier parishioners of the original St John's, which stood on a hill in the central business district.

The new St John's was built when the hill was bulldozed to accommodate the building occupied by WINZ and CYFS.

The blaze could been seen over a wide area and burnt particles were falling in a suburb at least 5kms from the church.

Veterinary surgeon Chris McKenzie, whose practice is close to the church, says it was heart-wrenching to watch it burn.

"We could see flames jumping above the roofline," he said.

"It was a beautiful church. A very sad loss. "

His wife, Carol McKenzie, ran a Toolbox parenting programme from the church, which she said was very community-oriented.

It had a food bank, a drop-in cafe and a major Christmas programme, and did a great deal for people in general, she said.

"It's going to be a huge loss for the community because they [St John's] are very involved in so many things for the community."

Mr McKenzie said their 12-year-old daughter, Keighley, had begged them to stop watching the fire as it began to turn to black smoke and asked to be taken home.

Nearby resident Judith King said the sight of the church on fire was so sad she cried.

Also mourning its loss was Judi Hart, whose grandmother, Ellen Whitely, lived on the site of the church's present car park.

"My aunty, uncle and cousin lived with her - it was a real heritage part of Rotorua." Mrs Hart said.

"The church was modern but beautiful. It's very sad it has gone like this."

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