Magazine Article – Fire at Norsewood


Fire at Norsewood

One of the most disastrous New Zealand fires left 170 people homeless in the Norsewood district of Hawke’s Bay in March 1888.

Forty families lost their homes in the bush fire which overwhelmed the town, and 17 of these families – 68 people – were left without food, clothing or bedding.  Most of the menfolk in the district were working away from home but they could have done nothing to stop the inferno of heat, smoke and showers of sparks.  Women and children were rushed down the roads that were still open.  School children were mustered in the safest clearing that could be found.

According to an eyewitness the main body of the fire swept past Norsewood looking like a vast furnace.  A roaring wind “lifted huge tongues of fire skyward. . . . To add to the terror as the fire swept along and the daylight began to die a fearful storm of lightning accompanied by thunder came rolling along overhead from the direction of the Ruahine mountains.”  This, however, proved to be the salvation of Ormondville and other parts of the bush district.  Flames were almost at the doors of the town when the storm broke and quenched them.

About 20 houses were destroyed as well as two churches, a school, a boarding house, the library, the temperance hall and business buildings.  Hearing of the distress, the Mayor of Napier immediately sent a ton of flour, 100 pounds of tea, sugar, 100 pairs of blankets and as much clothing for men, women and children as could be collected.  A Government subsidy of £1 4s. was given for every £1 the Hawke’s Bay community gave in relief money.  School children’s gifts totalled £60 to buy books and new school equipment for the Norsewood children.

Part of the Te Ohu Block in southern Hawke’s Bay after the great fire.


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