News

Op shop gutted by fire in suspected arson attack

A suspicious fire leaves an Anglican parish op shop on the Mornington Peninsula in ruins early Friday morning.

The blaze destroyed the op shop building behind the church.

PHOTO: via Twitter/@TheTodayShow

By Chris Shearer

March 31 2017 

A suspicious fire gutted an Anglican Church op shop on the Mornington Peninsula early Friday morning.

No one was injured in the blaze, which began at Holy Trinity Hastings around 4am.

Five crews from the Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade battled the flames for 40 minutes, preventing the fire from spreading to the church itself.

The police arson squad and fire investigators spent the morning at the site.

The Registrar of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, Mr Ken Spackman, said it was a great relief no one was hurt.

Mr Spackman said the parish and community would work hard to see a replacement facility up and running as soon as possible.

“This is a tragedy for the local community, made worse by the fact that the op shop, a popular facility and an important part of the fabric and infrastructure in Hastings, was in fact the old church building with its memories and meaning for long-standing locals,” he told TMA.

Firefighters say the historic building will have to be bulldozed for safety reasons.

A churchwarden at Holy Trinity, Mr Don Johnston, said the op shop put tens of thousands of dollars back into the Hastings community each year to “really grassroots” community services such as breakfast clubs for school students, clothing and food hampers for pensioners and the unemployed, drug support services and in supporting local groups such as the Westernport Community Support Centre and the town’s CFA brigade.

Mr Johnston said about 40 volunteers, some of whom were not parishioners, put thousands of hours of work into the shop.

He said the op shop operated out of the original church building, which dated from about 1884.

“There is a fair amount of grief and loss about what has happened,” he said.

“I think the sadness comes from the fact that we were doing just what we were supposed to do in the community.

“It’s a loss from the heritage perspective, it’s a loss for the community, it’s a loss for the people who worked there as volunteers and it’s a loss for the people who relied on it for support. Where do we get the blankets now that winter is coming?”

Mr Johnston said the sorting sheds for the op shop were untouched by the fire, as was the existing church building, hall and vicarage. The church was being cleared of dust and odour caused by the fire yesterday.

He said CCTV footage showed someone approaching the op shop building early yesterday, then later walking backwards away from the building. A small flame was visible, then a much larger fire. Three bangs were heard.

“We have just got to turn the adversity into opportunity and just move forward,” Mr Johnston said. “We have no choice.

“The most critical thing is no one was hurt.”

Holy Trinity is between vicars, with the Revd Alex Packett having retired last year and the Revd Tim Anderson, until now Vicar of St John’s Healesville, due to be inducted at Hastings in three weeks.