Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Fire ravages Mathoura church hall

Members of St Andrew’s Uniting Church in Mathoura are unsure whether they will rebuild the church hall, which was destroyed by fire on Thursday.

ZOE MCMAUGH January 21, 2014 8:45am

To rebuild, or not to rebuild?

That is the question members of St Andrew’s Uniting Church in Mathoura are asking themselves after the church hall was destroyed by fire on Thursday evening.

Firefighters were called to the hall, in Burnes St and at the rear of the church, about 7.37pm.

Mid Murray Zone Rural Fire Service community safety officer Doug Adamson said the hall was ‘‘fully engulfed’’ when firefighters arrived.

Church elder Reg Eddy said it was unclear whether the hall, which housed the church kitchen and was home to numerous church and community events, would be replaced.

He said the congregation of about 20 people would need to discuss the future of the hall.

‘‘It’s a big loss to us, obviously. We used the hall regularly,’’ Mr Eddy said.

‘‘At this stage we’re not sure how it started.

‘‘I’m of the opinion that perhaps we shouldn’t rebuild it and we should just make better use of the Murray Shire hall.

‘‘Everything has been lost; our equipment for catering and the building itself.’’

Mr Eddy said the brick section of the hall was opened in June 1964, but the timber-clad kitchen was much older.

The church was untouched by the fire, but a second brick hall was also damaged by flames.

Fellow congregation member Doug Berryman said whether the hall is replaced would depend on pending assessments.

He said the hall was used once a month following the church service for a meal and only recently housed 100 people for the traditional Christmas luncheon.

‘‘It was the original kitchen, built in the 1930s or ‘40s, and had red gum flooring,’’ he said.

‘‘We still have the church, and I guess we’ll use the shire hall now.’’

Living nearby, Bob Allingham said once he was alerted to the fire he went to see if friends who neighbor the church were okay.

‘‘All I could see at first was a great big, grey cloud of smoke,’’ Mr Allingham said.

‘‘I have friends who live directly opposite so I went straight round and stood there and just watched it burn.

‘‘I used to go to a few meetings at the hall, and they used to hold the debutante dance practice there some years ago.

‘‘Both my father and mother had their funerals at that church, too.’’

Mr Allingham was alerted to the fire by his daughter Leanne Keech, the wife of Mathoura RFS volunteer Ian Keech.

She said the church hall fire would easily be the ‘‘worst I’ve ever seen’’.

‘‘We were at home and Ian’s phone (it’s fire alarm) went off,’’ Mrs Keech said.

‘‘When we walked outside all we could see was a thick plume of smoke.

‘‘From my father’s house in Steven St (about 500m away) we could see flames leaping up into the air.

‘‘I was there for about an hour watching on and I think it is the worst I have ever seen.

‘‘The flames were so intense – I was more worried about Ian.’’

Mrs Keech said while the church hall could not be saved, all the firefighters should be commended for their efforts.

‘‘They responded so quickly,’’ she said.

‘‘It (the fire) was pretty close to homes and if there had been wind it would have easily burned out of control.

‘‘Ian got home (from fighting the fire) about midnight.’’

Mr Adamson confirmed firefighters were on scene controlling and ‘‘mopping up’’ the fire until after 11pm.

He said about 10 firefighters responded to the emergency call – Mathoura, Bunnaloo and Thyra.

~ with Riverine Herald

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