Ballantyne’s fire

18/11/1947 Christchurch, New Zealand

Ballantyne’s fire

Type of Fire


Ignition Source

Unknown - possibly electrical fault or cigarette


4 hours


41 fatalities


$500,000 building damage

What happened at the Ballantyne’s department store, Christchurch, New Zealand?

On 18 November 1947 a fire broke out at the Ballantyne’s department store in Christchurch, New Zealand which would take four hours to control.

Firefighters battled for 24 hours using 30 hoses to extinguish the blaze. 41 people lost their lives.


How did the Ballantyne’s fire start?

The cause of the fire is unknown, but it’s possible it was started by an electrical fault or carelessly discarded cigarette.

The fire started at around 4pm in the furniture department and quickly took hold and consumed the entire building. The intense heat caused the windows to break with air fueling the fire further.


What can the industry learn from the Ballantyne’s fire?

Due to the extent of the damage a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the event. Archives New Zealand holds all of the files of the Royal Commission, including 13 volumes of evidence and various reports relating to building services. Some of the findings were:

  • Fire spread was propagated by available fuel sources - mainly furniture and other combustible items and aided by the storage of flammable liquids
  • The fire spread quickly due to a lack of containment and fire stopping between floors and open spaces
  • The windows failed, providing plentiful air supply
  • The spread of smoke indicated the stairwell acted as a chimney, drawing flames through the building
  • Access and egress paths were impaired, making escape difficult and trapping 41 people inside

The Ballantyne’s fire had a direct impact on the New Zealand building code - future standards considered sprinkler and warning systems.

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