Arsonists target derelict college again

JO MOIR
Last updated 11:08 21/01/2014

Firefighters rush to a College on fire in Petone.

Petone school fire
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Fire fighters battle the Petone blaze.

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The owners of an abandoned school which was damaged by a large fire last night say they are as keen as anyone to get the site fixed up as soon as possible.

Shortly before 8pm yesterday a building at the former Petone College on North St burst into flames and the plume of smoke from the smouldering asbestos roof could be seen from as far away as Wellington.

Ryman Healthcare bought the site in 2012, and have been going through a resource consent process to build a $120m retirement village.

A hearing was held in December and Ryman and residents are now waiting on an outcome.

Both Ryman and the Fire Service say the site has been subject to a number of arson and vandalism attacks over the years.

Fire Service investigators are currently working to establish whether the fire was deliberately lit.

Lower Hutt senior station officer Rob Sullivan said the fire was "one in a long line" he had attended at the old college buildings.

There had been at least six previous fires and a particularly destructive one about four years ago, he said.

"We're very sure it's suspicious. The buildings have been locked up for a long time, but are prone to vandalism."

He said fires at the derelict school put his staff and the wider community at unnecessary risk.

"This is a conversation we have pretty much every time we come to one of these fires. It doesn't seem to make much difference, such is life.

"That's our role, if there's a fire we come and put it out," he said.

The asbestos roof was a health and safety danger and up to 12 fire crews were battling to get the blaze under control late into the night.

Ryman Healthcare said its staff would be assisting the Fire Service with its investigation into the cause of the fire.

"We're as keen as anyone to get the site fixed up as soon as possible. Once we know the outcome of the planning process we can develop our plans,'' Ryman Healthcare managing director Simon Challies said.

Two houses, in Wairarapa and Taranaki, were destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning.

One fire broke out in an empty rural house on Matarawa Rd, Carterton, at 4.29am, Fire communications shift manager Jan Wills said.

The house was ''totalled'', she said.

At 12.36am a large house on Sutton Rd, New Plymouth caught fire.

The owner was woken by a smoke alarm and got out.

The house was destroyed excepting for one wing.

Fire safety investigators would examine the cause of both fires. 

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- The Dominion Post

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