Locals blame squatters for King St fire

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Rhonda Dredge

Locals are blaming squatters for the fire that destroyed an empty strip club near the corner of King and Lonsdale streets last month.

The blaze narrowly avoided destroying three heritage buildings and threatened nearby residential towers.

The windows of the Kilkenny Inn, a building that survived the blaze, are now firmly boarded up.

Locals are asking questions about who is responsible for protecting them from fires lit by squatters while owners figure out their plans.

This is the second fire in a year in a King St heritage building left empty by developers.

It was a cold autumn night on May 23, the beginning of Melbourne’s record low temperatures, when the fire started. It took 50 firefighters three hours to get the blaze under control.

Lucia Mededeva lives next door on the 24th floor of an apartment block. She was woken by an announcement over the intercom.

“We had a fire officer that spoke to us through the intercom,” she said. “He told us to remain calm. There was so much smoke. I was worried. We had trouble sleeping.”

At 4am there was another announcement that the fire had been contained.

The tower was not evacuated but police believed three people were missing in the fire (squatters who hadn’t been accounted for), so they set up a crime scene and the arson squad was called in to investigate.

When CBD News visited two days later, three people were claiming to have escaped from the fire.

CBD News has spoken to neighbours of the crime scene who have seen squatters occupy a number of buildings in the vicinity, including Goldfingers.

The publican of the Golden Age on King St woke at about 1am and saw the blaze.

Paul Castran mourns the way the street has deteriorated. The Kilkenny Inn used to be a thriving pub with mixed Chinese and local meals.

“I don’t like to see it,” he said. “There are no people around. There are just 10 to 20 people working at the Slater & Gordon office across the road.”

Mr Castran is calling on the council to protect vacant buildings. The strip club was to be the end-of-trip facilities for a 20-storey office tower and at least the façade would have been preserved.

He’s seen squatters in Aspire, the development on the corner of Little Lonsdale St. “They had tools to get in,” he said.

“The council should have a rule. Empty buildings are a magnet. What they should do if it’s abandoned is get security going by. If they’re unoccupied there should be some sort of alarm or security.”

Another heritage building narrowly escaped destruction last year, when a fire broke out at the Corner Store on La Trobe St, a special place in the history of Melbourne and the CBD’s oldest surviving dwelling.

The new buyer, who gained ownership in March, has yet to publicly share their plans for the site. •

 

Caption 1: A crime scene was established.

Caption 2: Paul Castran worried about King St.

Illustration by Rhonda Dredge.

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