Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 13:23 UK

'Iconic' Antarctic hut burns down

The hut burnt down as staff tried to re-light the heating system
The bitumen and timber hut burst into flame in the dry conditions

An isolated hut in Antarctica favoured by explorer Sir Edmund Hillary has burnt down after a fuel leak during a routine inspection at minus 35C.

Antarctica New Zealand said the "iconic" A-frame timber and bitumen hut on the Ross Ice Shelf went up in flames during re-ignition of the heater.

A spokesman said the hut, stationed on the ice since 1971, "will be sadly missed".

Everest-conqueror Sir Edmund visited during his last trip to Antarctica.

Spokesman Lou Sanson said: "The A-Frame represented something uniquely Kiwi in Antarctica.

"It was the concept of a mountain hut mixed with a bach and it said something about who we are."

Fire hazard

With the extremely dry conditions, he said it was fortunate that staff removed themselves from harm quickly.

The A-Frame hut on Ross Ice Shelf, Antartica
The hut had been used by New Zealanders since 1971

"Fire is the biggest hazard in Antarctica. Earlier this season, two Russians were killed when one of their buildings burned down," said Mr Sanson, quoted by the New Zealand Herald.

About 12,000 New Zealanders, including prime ministers, poets and scientists, have stayed in the hut during field training and as a retreat from New Zealand's Scott Base.

In May 2004 it survived 12 hours of over 160km/h winds with two Scott Base staff inside.

It was once owned by the US, stationed next to Scott Base at McMurdo Station, but they abandoned it in 1971.

Scott Base operates with about 10 staff during the southern winter, with no physical contact from beyond the continent between February and August.

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