A fire that gutted the technology block at Whangamata Area
School, causing at least $1 million worth of damage, doesn't
appear to have been deliberately lit, the school's principal
Ross Preece told the Bay of Plenty Times early indications
from the Fire Service and police investigations revealed the
cause of the fire was accidental.
"Given it happened during the day, it was highly unlikely to
have been deliberate although we're still not 100 per cent
sure what happened. But from what I've been told, [emergency
services] are sure it's not arson."
The fire started about 10am on Wednesday and destroyed the
wood and metal workshops, automotive area and a small
The school had been holding an athletics day so most of its
students - including those from the three visiting schools -
were on the sports field when the fire started and had been
easy to account for.
Two staff members raised the alarm as the fire quickly took
hold and flames rose 3m above the roof.
Thousands of dollars of equipment, including a $1500 sander
bought three days ago, automotive hoists and drill presses,
accumulated by head of technology Bob Pipe over 20 years of
appealing to local businesses, also went up in smoke.
Five trucks from Whangamata, Pauanui, Tairua and Waihi spent
two hours battling the blaze.
Mr Preece estimated the cost of replacing "the best workshop"
in the area to be in excess of $1 million.
"It's a fantastic resource ... The sad thing is Wintec had
been starting an outreach programme for high schools and they
were interested in us hosting it at our school because of the
facilities we have," he said.
The school was now reliant on the Ministry of Education and
its insurers to "do the right thing and put it back to the
state it was".
Police were at the school yesterday investigating the blaze.
Detective Sergeant Martyn Hughes of the Thames-Coromandel CIB
said early investigations indicated the fire was not
"To date no accelerant has been identified and there is
nothing to suggest the fire was malicious, however the
investigation will continue to be treated as an unexplained
fire until such time as we have information that determines
what has occurred."
Eastern Waikato fire risk management officer Ross Fleet said
it was possible the fire could be malicious and all would be
revealed after the investigation.
"The process of the investigation has eliminated a number of
His investigation was due to be completed yesterday but Mr
Fleet said the cause of the fire might not be confirmed for a
couple of days.
Demolition of the gutted building is set to begin next week -
a task which Mr Preece said would cost about $95,000.
"It was built in 1987 but it was built really well, with all
the bells and whistles and the head teacher, Bob Pipe, had
gathered state-of-the-art equipment.
"Now we just want the ministry to rebuild it so we have a
facility as good as we used to have."
Mr Preece hoped work would be completed by the start of term
two next year as the facility was also used by students from
Hikuai, Tairua and Opoutere schools.
- By Amy McGillivray and Genevieve Helliwel of the Bay of