WALK THROUGH: See Ballina pub devastated by fire
UPDATE: 4PM: WALK INSIDE the Australian Hotel's bistro and kitchen and you'll see melted plastic, shattered glass and timber furniture turned to ash. There is debris strewn across the floors and a big clean up ahead.
See the damage in this video from reporter Hamish Broome:
TODAY: 2.50PM THE AUSTRALIAN Hotel Manager Greg Bird is confident the Ballina pub will rise from the ashes of this morning's fire and come back bigger and better.
As soon as he got news of the fire, Mr Bird said he called the pubs owners in Wagga.
"They were shocked, but what can you do, we need to just keep moving on," he said.
Still trying to comprehend the amount of heat damage, Mr Bird said the pubs kitchen, bistro and back bar would be open as soon as possible.
"We have put a lot of work into the hotel to get it to the stage it was at and we're not going to give up," he said.
"The bistro was going along well and we have been doing 250 to 300 meals a day which speaks for itself.
"Once all the authorities have been notified and have done their jobs we will get into the clean-up and reopen as soon as possible.
"Hopefully we won't lose too many customers and they all will come back."
An insurance assessor had viewed the damage and Mr Bird said he was expecting a phone call about the it this afternoon.
He said it was too early to estimate the total damage bill or how long repairing the damage would take.
"Everywhere you look there are a lot of things that need repairing, replacing or cleaning, so I couldn't even guess how much it will cost," he said.
"Stuff that was down the other end of the kitchen, metres and metres away from the fire has been melted from the heat of the blaze outside.
"The assessor said there were some things that need to be done pretty quickly because of the damage and the smoke, because if it is just left how it is it make it worse."
UPDATE 1.20PM: THE LIVES of eight Australian Hotel employees are in limbo after a homeless 83-year-old man allegedly started a fire at the rear of the pub which caused extensive damage to the bistro, kitchen and back bar.
The damage to the hotel now means four bar and four bistro staff will be missing out on shifts at the hotel.
Hotel manager Greg Bird said he had been helping the homeless man out over the past week or so, and trying to refer him to services for the homeless, without any luck.
Police allege the man lit a fire in a rear alcove of the pub, which then got out of control, setting fire to eight wheelie bins, plastic chairs and wooden bar stools which were stored in the alcove.
The heat from that fire caused extensive damage to the popular back bar and bistro of the pub, which serves an average of 250 meals each day for lunch and dinner.
The initial alarm was raised by a woman staying at the pub who woke in the early hours of the morning to go to the toilet.
While all the required smoke alarms went off, she also door-knocked the manager, who lives on-site, and other guests of the hotel.
Assessors will be inspecting the insured hotel today.
Mr Bird said he couldn't estimate the value to damage to the hotel, and couldn't estimate how long it would be before the back bar is operational.
He said the front bar of the pub was still open.
FRIDAY 12PM: AN 83-year-old homeless man spent the night in the cells at Ballina police station after he was arrested for allegedly starting a fire at the back of the Australian Hotel bistro, causing serious damage this morning.
Lismore police Chief Inspector Nicole Bruce said once the fire was extinguished police had to guard the scene while crime scene officers worked with a NSW Fire and Rescue Duty Commander to investigate the suspicious blaze.
"About 2.30am this morning emergency services were called to the Australian Hotel on River St, Ballina," she said.
"Fire fighters discovered a fire at the rear of the bistro area, which was in close proximity to some LPG cylinders.
"The residents of the hotel were evacuated, which was about 12 people."
Chief Insp Bruce said the fire was extinguished without any explosion of the LPG cylinders, however the balze left the building with extensive damage.
"Police at the scene arrested an 83-year-old man who was charged with recklessly destroying property by fire," she said.
"He was refused bail and will face Ballina Local Court today."
A NSW Fire and Rescue spokesman said fire fighters managed to contain the fire so it didn't spread from the ground floor kitchen and bistro area.
Two NSW Fire and Rescue tankers from Ballina and one from Alstonville were needed to battle the blaze, the spokesman said.
By 4.20am, the spokesman said the fire was extinguished, but fire fighters remained at the scene until 11.15am assisting police with their investigations.