The Foxton RSA wishes to thank Veteran Affairs, who donated $5,000 to Foxton RSA towards replacement of memorabilia and New Market RSA Club donated all the new furniture that is now used in the Restaurant, Upper Hutt RSA donated some mounted weapons on stained timber bases, Palmerston North RSA donated computer equipment, fax machine and other memorabilia and a number of other RSAs have also assisted with many promises of memorabilia when the new Clubrooms are built.

Foxton RSA, Firefighter fighting fire. Firefighters examining external damage. Mounted weapon in view. Photos and article courtesy of NZPA (article by Stephen,NZPA)

16th November 2006 saw the Club destroyed by fire, destroying the history and many years of collective memorabilia. Sixty firefighters slugged it out with flames that destroyed the Foxton RSA building in Easton Street yesterday afternoon. Despite the ruin, RSA members are undaunted. “We will get up and start over again,” said committee member Neil Lawson even while smoke was still belching from the eaves and firefighters pounded away at hot spots. And elsewhere, committee member John Jennings was being handed a rescued New Zealand flag. Immediately he unwrapped it and flew it upside down to signal distress. But he still managed a grin. One of the RSA’s vice-presidents, Allan Pugh, stood on the fringe of the curtain of thick grey-brown smoke over part of Easton Street, shaken by what was happening, but still looking to the future. “We will probably have a committee meeting fairly quickly,” he said. “The building was insured, but I don’t know all the details. We will be looking for other premises in the meantime.”

Carrying on was important for the RSA members and others witnessing the fire. Mr Jennings said the association had begun accepting social members and has more than 500 on its books.The 50-year- old building had become an important community gathering place. “I don’t doubt that the spirit to rebuild is there,” said Palmerston North chief fire officer Rodger Calder, one of many out-of- town firefighters at the scene. “They will have no problem starting over. But the really, really sad thing is the history that has gone their medals, pictures and mementos. We got out what we could some medals from one side of the building and some trophies from the other but so much is gone.” He described the building as a total loss. Although built to code, it was too old to have been fitted with a sprinkler system. The incident commander in charge of the scene was Foxton deputy fire chief Michael Clement. “It was a second-alarm fire,” he said, “but on the way here, when we saw the smoke, we upgraded into to a third alarm.”

The fire was reported at 3.20pm and more than two hours later, thick smoke was still belching from beneath the eaves at the front of the building and obscuring part of Easton Street. Around the back near the early seat of the fire, water was ankle deep along one side of the driveway from Ladys Mile. The roof over a kitchen area and hall had collapsed, but firefighters pressed on inside the ruins in pursuit of flames spreading out through several layers of false ceiling. It was not until about 6.30pm that the crews began to stand down and a night watch moved in to take over. Mr Clement said that eight fire engines responded to the call, and about 90 percent of the crews were volunteers. The appliances came from Foxton, Foxton Beach, Himatangi, Waiterere, Levin, Shannon and Palmerston North. The fire was one of the worst in the Horowhenua for many years, but with so many firefighters present, it was possible to spell teams fighting in the intense heat. Just after 5pm, still more were arriving. “We’ve just got off work,” said two men already in full gear.Mr Clement directed them to a troubled section of wall. The club rooms, with entrances from Easton Street and Ladys Mile, began as a house. In the early 1980s, a hall from Ohakea was grafted on to the back of the house. Around 1990, the front of the house was extended and an awning erected to form a smokers’ area. Part of the extension was named the Wally Fee Lounge. Mr Fee, a former president, died eight weeks ago. Lost in the blaze were pool tables and eight poker machines owned by the club, a casino, TAB and a restaurant that had become popularin the community.

The hall at the rear was known as the Ohakea building and was believed to be the base’s old YMCA. Easton Streetwas closed to traffic at its intersection with Ladys Mile, but cars of onlookers still entered from the other end. Occupants of nearby houses came out to watch the firefighters and some sat in rows on fences. “It’s a bloody disaster,” said a former committee member who did not want to be named. “

A lot of people are going to miss this place. Foxton resident Andrew Benson, retired, who lives one block from the RSA, agreed the loss of the facility would hit Foxton hard. “It’s very popular because they have got the restaurant there. Everyone goes to it. They did it all up about 10 years ago and lots of people use it.” Mr Benson realised the building was on fire about 3.15pm, when he saw his neighbors outside waving their arms around. The flames were shooting up through the roof, Mr Benson said. Across the street among the onlookers was Dean Clement, who shook his head as he watched the fire. “It is a shame this has gone,” he said. “It was a community icon.” Mr Calder said last night that two fire crews from Palmerston North stood watch at the scene until volunteers took over at 9pm. Another Palmerston North crew returned at 3am.