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Fire warning

Friday, November 14, 2008

THE fire which threatened Levuka Town yesterday is a timely reminder to those responsible for maintaining sites of national interest.

It is fortunate that the National Fire Authority acted swiftly to bring the blaze under control and ensure the safety of the town and its citizens.

Situated on the coast and in the constant face of a stiff easterly off the Koro Sea, Levuka fire poses an enormous risk to the town.

To exacerbate matters, most of Beach Street, Levuka's main thoroughfare, comprises wooden shops and residences. There are very few concrete homes on the hill immediately behind those shops. Any fire fanned by the winds from the Koro Sea pose immediate danger to this town which has been declared a national heritage.

Within the immediate vicinity of yesterday's fire were the Customs House, Post Office and the Levuka Museum. Each of the structures have withstood the elements for close to 100 years.

For any of these buildings or the town to be ravaged by fire would be a tremendous loss to the people of Ovalau and the citizens of Fiji.

It was in this little town that the first Europeans attempted to establish a system of trade and governance. Less than 500 metres from the fire which threatened to destroy the Pacific Fishing Company facility, the Deed of Cession was signed in 1874 signalling this country's first step toward real development.

This is a town steeped in history, a site in which so much of our early history -- commercial, religious and administrative -- is enshrined.

We cannot, as a nation, afford to lose any portion of this significant municipality. In less than a decade, fire has destroyed the Masonic lodge and the original Morris Hedstrom store. These buildings had stood since Levuka's inception. Now they are no more, mere memories. A time will come when the young have no recollection of these magnificient sites.

That is why it is important that every effort be made to protect and preserve what remains of this quaint town, once the seat of British dominance in the region. The State has declared the town a national heritage and by law the townsfolk cannot alter the appearance of their buildings.

This is not a cheap exercise. As the buildings grow older, insurance premiums will continue to go up, as will the cost of maintenance.

The people of Levuka deserve to receive some assistance if we insist on maintaining this piece of history. A system can be implemented to offer tax deductions on materials used to maintain national trust sites and on equipment which protects these homes and stores from fire.

Such a scheme could cover all national trust sites around the country.

It is important that the young people of this nation have access to portions of our history for which we are truly proud.

Let us start with Levuka.

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