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Pub blaze forces new location for triplets' wake

Published: 8:40AM Friday June 08, 2012 Source: ONE News / Fairfax

Wellington's landmark Backbencher Pub was extensively damaged by fire this morning.

The iconic building, which is famous for its puppets of politicians, is directly across the road from St Paul's Cathedral which is the location of today's public memorial service for the Weekes triplets killed in Doha.

The triplets' wake was due to be held at the pub. The Weekes family have since found a new undisclosed location for the wake.

Also, affected by the fire was embattled Education Minister Hekia Parata, who was evacuated from her apartment building after a fire broke out.

Fire Service central communications shift manager Murray Dunbar said firefighters were alerted at 4.45am when an alarm went off in the multi-storey Kate Sheppard apartment building, next to the pub.

It is understood the fire was in the pub's kitchen.

Apartment residents were evacuated and eight fire trucks were sent.

Parata told TV One's Breakfast that "there was absolutely no drama, everything happened as the drills require, the firemen were very methodical and very measured."

Kate Sheppard resident Oliver Tapper said people initially thought it might be a drill.

"All these fire trucks were out there and there was heavy big black smoke in the street from the Backbencher."

He said residents were waiting in the cold for about 20 minutes before going into the banquet hall of the Beehive for shelter.

Parata was with her two teenage daughters, he said.

"She had a chat with a few people. When we left the Beehive she came in and said 'I hope you enjoyed your beehive tour, we'll be leaving shortly'."

Residents were allowed back into the building about 5.45am, and about an hour later four trucks remained at the pub, ventilating and dampening down the scene.

"It seemed to be under control. A few people were worried about all those puppets that could be ruined," Tapper said.

The Backbencher is well-known for its satirical political themed menus and unique puppetry mounted on the walls and is the home of TVNZ7's Back Benches programme . A new location has been found for coming weeks - The Shepherds Arms in Tinakori Road, Thorndon.

There is no indication that the fire was suspicious, and fire safety is continuing to investigate the cause.