News / Crime

Suspicious fire guts historic CERES building

Photographs and other documents from the environment park’s earliest days were lost in the blaze

All that is left of the building is its bluestone walls.

Mark Phillips
Monday, August 9, 2021

POLICE are continuing to investigate a suspicious fire on Wednesday night which gutted one of the oldest buildings at CERES environment park in Brunswick East.

All that remains of the Design, Infrastructure and Gardens (DIG) office are its bluestone walls, which on Saturday were strengthened with wooden struts to prevent them collapsing.

Photos, documents and other irreplaceable items chronicling CERES’ history were lost in the fire.

Police have an open mind about the cause of the blaze, but have not ruled out arson.

The fire was reported by neighbours who noticed flames in trees at about 8.50pm on Wednesday.

Thirty firefighters responded to the incident, with the first crews arriving within five minutes to find the building and several large trees alight.

With the fire at risk of spreading to nearby buildings and cars, firefighters immediately escalated the response by using high pressure hoses and an aerial appliance to attack the fire.

They brought the fire under control within 20 minutes of arrival, successfully containing it to the building of origin.

Both Fire Rescue Victoria’s specialist fire investigators and Victoria Police are investigating the cause. A crime scene was set up following the blaze and the area remains fenced and cordoned off. As a precaution, the adjacent bicycle workshop at CERES was closed at the weekend.

In a statement, Victoria Police said detectives would await advice from an arson chemist.

The DIG building in happier days. Photo: CERES

The wood and bluestone building opened in 1984 as the home of the Alternative Technology Association, now known as Renew.

CERES spokesperson Sieta Beckwith said it was most likely the oldest building constructed on the site since CERES was reclaimed from a former quarry. It served as both the base and office for the team who manage the park infrastructure and gardens on a daily basis and as a hub for CERES’ several thousand volunteers.

It had recently been renovated to improve the facilities for volunteers and had held many of the park’s archives, although fortunately some were recently transferred to elsewhere in the park.

Among the documents lost are original blueprints for the design of CERES.

Ms Beckwith said there had been occasional minor vandalism and break ins at the park before but it was too early to say whether Wednesday’s fire had been deliberately targeted attack.

Since the fire, CERES has been inundated with messages of support and condolences.

Ms Beckwith said early indications were that the solid concrete slab and brickwork were viable for rebuilding.

“We are not yet sure what is next following this fire but are hopeful something will rise from the ashes,” Ms Beckwith said.

“Perhaps a new volunteers hub, we will have to see. It’s all a bit fresh.”

She said the most helpful thing the Brunswick community could do was to continue to visit and donate to Ceres.

“Also we are on the lookout for digital archival support if anyone has any leads. It’s our 40 year anniversary next year and we’d love to be able to share some of the stories of the community and protect what archives we have remaining.”

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Eckersall Street fire

A second suspicious fire, this time in an empty house in Eckersall Street, behind the Brunswick Police Station, is also being investigated.

About 30 firefighters responded to the fire shortly before 1am on Friday morning following a Triple Zero call.

Fire crews arrived at the scene within four minutes to find flames spreading from an upstairs room of a three-storey residence under construction. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the burning house and following a search confirmed that it was unoccupied.

They were able to contain the fire to the room it began in and a section of the roof space. 
A ladder truck was used to check the spread of fire in the roof space. 
There was significant fire damage to the upper level of the house and roof space. 
Firefighters believe the cause of the fire may be suspicious and handed the scene to Victoria Police for further investigation. A crime scene has been set up at the location.