Shops blaze brought a blackened Christmas to Kyogle in 1926

ON CHRISTMAS morning, 1926, 14 businesses in the main street of Kyogle were reduced to rubble.

The fire started soon after midnight in a billiard room at the back of Walters's estate, and would go on to demolish almost an entire street.

Without any proper fire brigade or access to water, the flames grew and spread, totalling an estimated £100,000 in damage - about $6.5 million in today's currency.

At 12.50am on Christmas morning Constable Perdue finished his shift.

Shortly after returning to the station he heard cries of "fire". Running down to the back of Walker's tailoring shop, he could see flames bursting through the window.

Leo Nunn, a jeweller in the main street and one of only two witnesses, said "we have been trying to put the fire out but it is no use, the fire has too big a hold".

William Hoffman had just gone to bed, his room overlooking Walters's billiard salon, when he woke up suddenly and saw flames coming from the south-west corner.

He rushed to wake up his parents and then climbed over roofs to throw water, which his father handed him, on the fire. Had there been a couple of fire extinguishers, Mr Hoffman said it could have been stubbed out before spreading.

The roar of the fire could be heard at a great distance and the long tongues of flame shooting upwards caused a brilliant illumination of the country for miles around.

A big crowd gathered and attempts were made to rescue the contents from burning buildings.

A Northern Star reporter wrote "The raging inferno provided a spectacular sight - both weird and terrifying.

"Explosions from the fireworks in the toy shops and the bursting of cylinders in refrigerating chambers and soda fountains created an impression of machine gun warfare. Two hours after starting the flames had destroyed all the 13 business premises."

By 4.30am the whole of the wooden portion of the hotel was burned to the ground.

At five minutes to five, the victory was won.

A coroner's inquiry found the fire had originated at the rear of Walters's buildings but there was no evidence to show how it had started.

Following the devastation, questions were asked about the lack of water supply and a fire brigade in the town.

It was the focus of a Northern Star editorial that week.

"There is an impression in England that in order to secure the removal of a dangerous railway crossing it is necessary that a bishop should be killed by a passing train.

"The idea, although apparently outrageous on the surface, has a grain of commonsense behind it.

"Should an ordinary citizen be killed a coroner's inquest and a few lines in the newspaper end the matter, but should a bishop be the victim sufficient noise will be made to stir those responsible for the crossing to action.

"This peculiar belief of the British people is recalled by the disastrous fire which occurred at Kyogle on Christmas morning.

"Had it been less devastating than it was the danger which has been confronting Kyogle for years would probably have been passed over with some comment about the need of a water supply and would have been forgotten.

"The magnitude of the fire, however, has taught the people of Kyogle a lesson which is likely to bear fruit in the near future… Kyogle needs a water supply scheme and properly equipped fire brigade and needs them badly."

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