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St Barnabas Church Fire, Ultimo

Published: 10th May 2006

At 3:30 am on Tuesday 10 May 2006, the NSW Fire Brigades received numerous emergency calls reporting a building on fire in the inner city suburb of Ultimo, followed immediately by an automatic fire alarm activation in an adjoining building. Fire crews were immediately dispatched from the inner city fire stations of Glebe, Pyrmont and City of Sydney. Glebe firefighters, who arrived on scene within five minutes, were confronted with the historic St Barnabas Church enveloped in fire with flames extending through the windows and high above the roof. The fire was spreading to involve an adjoining church hall. The six level Uni Lodge Hotel, separated from the fire by only a few metres of laneway, was under severe threat. 350 occupants of the hotel were evacuated but were allowed to return two hours later.

Fire officers radioed for urgent assistance, and a 5th Alarm response ultimately saw 60 firefighters and 20 fire engines and specialist units committed to fighting the fire. Due to the severity of the fire, NSW Fire Brigades Commissioner Greg Mullins attended to oversee operations from the mobile command unit.

Fire crews concentrated on containing the fire to the church and hall, and protecting adjacent buildings. Three hydraulic platforms (elevated work platforms) directed water onto the fire from above while fire crews surrounded the fire with high volume hose streams. At the height of the blaze the roof gave way and walls threatened to collapse. Mountain St and busy Broadway, a main artery into the Sydney CBD, were closed to traffic during the fire.

After a two-hour battle the fire was brought under control, but not before the church and upper level of the church hall had been gutted. Fire crews remained at the scene well into the day mopping up, monitoring and containing water runoff, and assisting with investigations. Commissioner Greg Mullins praised the efforts of the fire crews. "It was a very intense, fast-moving fire, and the actions of the first arriving fire crews were decisive in ensuring that the ground floor of the church hall was saved, and that the adjoining residential complex, which was under severe threat, was barely scorched. I was frankly amazed that there was no fire extension into that building, and all of the fire crews should be commended for doing a great job."

The cause of the fire is being investigated by the NSW Fire Brigades' Fire Investigation and Research Unit (FIRU) and NSW Police.