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last updated Fri 27 Jul 12

Reading Pieces

In the early hours of Sunday the 28th of September, 1958 a fire burnt down most of the Boys' House dormitories at the Sumner School for Deaf. The fire is thought to have started in the shoe polishing room near the boiler.

There were 55 students aged from 5 to 17, as well as 11 members of the visiting Greymouth high schools' hockey team and 5 staff members asleep in Boys' House, at the time.

The automatic alarm bells started ringing at 12.30 a.m. at night. Everyone sleeping in the building was evacuated safely. When the children and staff left the dormitories, there was no sign of any smoke or fire. A minute after the children were outside the first flames could be seen.

Boys from two of the three dormitories including some of the hockey team lost all their belongings and clothes, except for the pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers they were wearing. Four staff members also lost all their belongings.

At about 1 a.m. when the fire was at its biggest, the blaze could be seen from all over Sumner and even further away. Fire engines came from Christchurch Central, Woolston and Sumner.

By the time the fire engines arrived, about 12 metres of the roof were burning fiercely. When the fire officer in charge saw how big the fire was he called another fire engine. By 2 a.m. the fire was under control, but it was not put out for a few hours later.

After the boys were evacuated a roll was taken and all the boys were safe.

The girls at the School for Deaf slept in the Main Building about 182 metres away from the fire. After the fire the boys and staff went to the Main Building and slept on mattresses on the floor for the night. On Sunday the boys who had lost their clothes were taken by bus to the Farmers' shop. They had to go in their pyjamas!

At the shop they got new clothes. The police arranged for the shop to be open on the Sunday so the children could get new clothes. A long time ago shops were not open on Sundays.

After the fire some of the boys were billeted out with relations, staff or families of day students. Other boys went to stay at the Burwood Girls' Training Centre or the Boys' Home. The East Wing of Boys' House only had smoke and water damage, so twenty of the youngest boys went back to live in the cleaned up dormitory.

After six weeks 35 boys were taken to the Tasman Immigration Hostel in Lyttelton to live. The boys lived at the Tasman Hostel for five years. The boys had most of their meals at the School for Deaf and went back to Lyttelton after tea. They went over the hill to school each day and back on a bus. The hostel was near the opening of the new Lyttelton Road Tunnel that was just being built.

When it was too dangerous to live in the hostel any more because of the road tunnel building, the boys were moved back to Sumner. The younger boys were moved into a new family home at the school called van Asch House.

The boys that were boarding in Boys' House at the time of the fire had a reunion from the 26th to 28th of September 2008. This was exactly 50 years after the fire happened.


belongings The things a person owns.

billeted To stay in someone's home.

blaze A fire burning brightly and fiercely.

boiler Makes hot water for central heating.

dormitory Large room with lots of beds.

evacuated Left the dangerous place to go somewhere safer.

fiercely Wildly, violently

immigration hostel The Tasman Immigration Hostel used
to be used for people who had just moved to New Zealand,
as the first place they would stay.

relations People would are part of your extended (wider) family. For example your grandparents and aunts and uncles.

reunion A get together of the boys who boarded (lived at school during the term) at Boys' House at Sumner School for Deaf in 1958, 50 years after the fire happened.




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