Apia Landmark up in Smoke
To mark the 40th Anniversary of the Samoa Observer, a series of selected articles printed over the last 40 years will be re-published in the next two weeks, to show our readers the issues covered by this newspaper over the years and the personalities that made the headlines.
First Published: 17 September 2009
An electrical fault is one possible cause of the fire which yesterday destroyed iconic fale of the former Kitano Tusitala Hotel, now known as Tanoa Tusitala.
Bought by Tanoa Hotels Group in July this year, the three fale were reduced to ashes within an hour by raging flames.
All had just been renovated by the new owners. The fire started in the middle fale called the Ocean Terrace about 9.30am or 9.45am.
Inside were mattresses and other items which were scheduled to be auctioned this Saturday.
Fanned by stiff easterlies the flames lept westward to the lobby, which like the Ocean Terrace, was of traditional fale designs, complete with sinnet.
“I have no idea” said chairman of Tanoa Hotels, Yanktesh Permat Reddy, when asked how the fire started.
Mr Reddy watched as it consumed the Ocean Terrace, spread to the lobby as well as cause major damage to the dinning and kitchen.
Fire fighters aimed hoses that could only spray out water for brief moments before losing pressure.
Water shot out of leaks in hoses.
Fire engines from Faleolo Airport arrived to join the fight.
The fire was stopped as flames began to appear at the top of the roof of the west wing called the 300/400 block-which is closed to the lobby.
The wind blew the fire away from the east wing. Both wings were being renovated.
Craig Construction is renovating 96 of the rooms there. As the fire raged in the lobby yesterday, managing director of Craig Construction, Frances Craig, said, “Perhaps if there were enough fire engines that would have helped greatly to try and kill the fire.”
“At this time the wind is strong and it’s hard to stop the fire at those fale because the roofs are made of timber,” Mr Craig said.
“So the fire spread very quickly,” he said.
“These Samoan fale were built at the beginning,”
“Perhaps it is close to ...40 years since these ... fale were built.”
All of the roofing of the fale have just been replaced.
“All of the roofing shingles were from Canada.”
The shingles were of cedar, durable but flammable.
“Yes it is timber,” said Mr Craig.
“I feel sympathy for Mr YP Reddy. It’s a difficult situation for him and his family. He has spent a lot of money trying to renew the Tanoa Tusitala.”
At a rough estimate close to $500,000 would have gone towards the roof renovation, Mr Craig said.
Mulipola Anton Ah Ben, a contractor, renovating the titles of the hotel knew where the fire started.
“It started from the main fale at the front facing the ocean front,” said Mulipola referring to the Ocean Terrace.
“It (fire) came from underneath because that is where many of the old mattresses of the hotel were stockpiled,” the managing director of Ah Ben Contractors said. The fire started from the mattresses then spread upwards to the roof.
When the dome of the Ocean Terrace caught fire, “nothing could be done. It just kept spreading.” “We were trying to organise... work,”
“Close to 10,” said Mulipola of his estimate of the cost in millions of tala of the renovations done at Tanoa Tusitala.
“We’re just hoping the man (Mr Reddy) stays and rebuilds the hotel,” he said.
“Otherwise he’ll go back and there’s no work for all of us.”
Construction workers watched the fire and joked about returning to digging talo. “There’ll be no pay this week,” laughed one.
Another who believes the fire started from an electrical fault is sales and marketing manager, Mavaega Mavaega, based on what electrical workers told him.
Mr Mavaega is worried about their future as employees at the hotel after the fire.