DISASTERS AND MISHAPS – FIRES
The Seacliff Fire
Another fire, with fatal consequences for 39 female patients of the Seacliff Mental Hospital in Otago, broke out in the institution on the night of 8 December 1942. Although no more than 20 miles from Dunedin, and less than that from the Waihemo County centre of Palmerston, the site of the Seacliff Hospital on the sea coast was an isolated one as far as outside help was concerned, and early efforts at fire fighting had to be undertaken by the institution staff. They responded magnificently, but their endeavours were greatly prejudiced by the fact that most exits and entrances to the special wards of the hospital had been carefully secured for the night. It was in one of these sections (Ward No. 5) that the fire originated, and before general access to it could be effected, 39 of the 41 inmates of the ward had been trapped beyond aid. Hundreds of other patients in the institution were successfully evacuated, but by the time entrance was forced into Ward No. 5 it was too late. The cause of the fire was never definitely determined, but an official inquiry established that Ward 5 was “dangerous in respect of fire hazard”. As in the case of Ballantyne's tragedy, one outcome of the calamity was a new code of safety precautions for all such institutions.