Chris Skelton / Stuff
Staff and guests were evacuated as seven crew members responded to an early morning fire in Westport.
Daniel Richter stands barefoot in front of a burned-out backpacker in Westport.
The visitor from Germany, who has been in New Zealand for about 18 months, was sleeping at Bazil’s Backpackers and Surf School, where he also works as a cleaner, when a fire broke out about 2 a.m. on Tuesday.
He was awakened by the fire alarm, grabbed his glasses and guitar and jumped out the window.
He didn’t have time to get his shoes, so he braved the cold and wet, flood-ravaged Westport barefoot.
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“I’ll get new shoes from the store,” he said.
His first thought upon seeing the thick smoke in the hostel was “get the f… out of here”.
“It was unreal. I thought I was dreaming,” he said.
Firefighters managed to get his backpack back after extinguishing the fire.
About 15 people were in the backpackers when the fire happened. All made it out safely and were housed in another part of the hostel for the rest of the night.
Police were on the scene, but initial indications indicated that it was not suspicious, a police spokesperson said.
Guests told stuff the fire was probably the accident of a resident trying to get the wood-burning stove going.
Co-owner Ray Lunn, who lives on the property, said the hostel could accommodate up to 90 people and still had accommodation for 50.
The fire couldn’t have come at a worse time as he expected his hostel to be in high demand after the floods that hit Westport this weekend.
Half of the building was also flooded this weekend and had to be reclad.
“It’s terrible timing. We survived Covid, we paid the bills and now this,” he said.
He was asleep when his girlfriend woke him up to say that part of the hostel was on fire.
“I ran downstairs to make sure everyone was gone. We had to smash the windows to warn a man. The fire was in full swing and there was a lot of smoke.
“A lot of history and artwork has surfaced. The hostel has been around for 35 years. It used to be the Kiwi Experience stop.
“But people need to realize that we’re still open for business.”
Lunn thought about 10 rooms would have to be demolished, along with a kitchen and some showers.
The hostel was insured.
As for Richter, he said he would have to clean a lot.
A Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokesperson said seven crew members from the west coast fought the fire in the ground-floor building.
Staff and guests were all evacuated safely and no injuries were reported, he said.
The fire was extinguished at 06:00 and some crews stayed behind to muffle any hot spots.
The damage was “quite extensive,” the spokesman said.
A fire investigator would be on site later on Tuesday.