The Ballantyne's Department Store fire of 18 November 1947 was — until the 2011 earthquake — Christchurch’s biggest disaster. It claimed 41 lives and, as the narration says, was “one of the greatest civil tragedies New Zealand has known.” Shot by National Film Unit crew who happened to be in the city for another film, Christchurch Fire shows the battle to beat the blaze: from the mass of hoses on Cashel St, to a fireman swapping a ciggie for a cup of tea. After the footage was rushed to Wellington, the film debuted in cinemas the night after the fire, and was also seen overseas.
The fire started at about four in the afternoon in the basement of the furniture department, and within 20 minutes the one acre block of buildings was ablaze from top to bottom. There were few shoppers at that time and most of the casualties were employees …– From the narration