Early learning teachers are horrified someone could set fire to a playcentre full of young children and toddlers.
The kids at the YMCA facility on Onslow Rd had a lucky escape after someone sneaked through the back door and set the storeroom alight.
It was the third blaze in six months.
One of the teachers smelled smoke coming from the room around 1.30pm last Tuesday.
She investigated and found doll's and children's dress-up clothes burning on a shelf, centre manager Brenda Bushell says.
The flames were shooting up one wall so the teacher raised the alarm and began an evacuation.
She then tried to halt the spread of the fire with an extinguisher.
"Had she not done that the fire department said the room would have gone up and we wouldn't be open," Ms Bushell says.
"It is just a scary thought that people would be that stupid to light a building on fire while children are inside."
Eighteen children, including a couple under two, were in the centre at the time, under the supervision of four staff members.
"When you have an evacuation like that you've got to account for everyone," Ms Bushell says.
"You'd hate to have someone go and hide or do something silly as children do and having to answer to parents to say we've lost a child.
"Thank God it didn't happen and everybody got out safely - and the staff did a great job."
The fire is the third at the centre in six months but the first lit by someone entering the building, Ms Bushell says.
"The first two times were fires that were lit on the deck over the weekend."
Fire Service risk management officer Phil Faidley is hoping there is no link between the fires but says the implications of it could be far-reaching.
"I can't say whether this signals an escalation or whether this is a completely separate incident.
"I would hope that this is a one-off and that we don't see this again.
"If somebody knows the person who did this they should get in touch so we get them the help they need.
"It is very important to stop them before they start."
Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Proctor says the fact a fire was set in a learning centre gives rise to very serious concerns. He is encouraging anyone with any information to contact him on 295 0244.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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