Fire rips through Post Office Hotel cellar

HOT MAIL: Firefighters spent more than four hours fighting a fire at Grafton’s Post Office Hotel yesterday, although only smoke was visible at street level.
HOT MAIL: Firefighters spent more than four hours fighting a fire at Grafton’s Post Office Hotel yesterday, although only smoke was visible at street level. Adam Hourigan

SMOKE-damaged walls and police tape surrounding the once bustling Post Office Hotel are the only outwardly visible signs of a fire that ripped through the building's cellar yesterday morning.

Inside however, it's a different story.

Firefighters from Grafton, South Grafton and Woolgoolga worked for four and a half hours to contain the blaze, which started in the basement level of the building about 10.20am yesterday morning and sparked concerns at adjoining legal firm Foott, Law and Co, which was self-evacuated as soon as smoke infiltrated their building.

Grafton Fire and Rescue captain Garry Reardon said crews went straight into offensive firefighting mode on arrival, but when the fire became too involved to gain direct access they had to resort to defensive measures, punching a hole into the stairwell and concentrating their efforts on containment through the ground floor.

They successfully isolated the fire to the basement, extinguishing it hours later with the help of a specialist vehicle from Kempsey capable of delivering high volumes of foam.

Firefighters used a thermal imaging camera to pinpoint its location.

"It was about two and a half hours before we even got an indication that we were getting on top of it," he said. "We didn't know what was going down underground.

"There are not too many cellars in Grafton. I've been in the brigade for 26-27 years and it's the first cellar fire I've attended."

Captain Reardon said the performance of the firefighters was commendable considering the difficult and dangerous circumstances they were faced with.

"There were 21 people on the scene and some of them wore breathing apparatus kits three or four times," he said. "It's very physically demanding work."

And while there was no-one in the building at the time, a man who has called the second floor accommodation home for the past six weeks was surprised to come back to find emergency services working to save the building, which was advertised for lease or sale.

When The Daily Examiner spoke to him yesterday afternoon, he was still waiting to see if he could retrieve his belongings.

Owners Don and Judy Ward were not able to be contacted by the time of going to print.

Topics:  fire firefighter post office hotel

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