Blocked exits and a non-functioning fire alarm came close to spelling doom for 40 students at Opotiki College, Eastern Bay of Plenty.
The Opotiki Volunteer Fire Brigade was alerted to a fire at the college just before 8pm on Saturday.
Bay of Plenty fire risk management officer Jon Rewi said the 40 teenagers who were supposed to sleep at the wharenui ‘‘had a narrow escape’’.
‘‘The blocked exits also made it difficult for the first firefighters to get inside,’’ he told the Opotiki News.
‘‘The school had 40 students who were set up to sleep in the wharenui and an adjacent room.
‘‘The tables and chairs had been pushed across some emergency exits and mattresses laid out on the floors – blocking other exits.’’
The mattresses were placed over under-floor heating vents and as a result of the overheating, the floor of the building had caught fire.
‘‘There does not appear to have been a working fire alarm system – instead a caretaker was alerted when the burglar alarm motion sensor detected the rapidly spreading flames,’’ Rewi said.
‘‘Luckily the students were out of the two buildings at the time. A few hours later and, without an early warning system, those in the wharenui would have been trapped inside, unable to escape out the exits.
‘‘There almost certainly would have been fatalities.’’
The fire caused extensive damage to the building.
Rewi said the incident should serve as a warning to other schools and marae to double check their fire safety systems and put in place a careful fire safety plan before hosting overnight stays.
‘‘The local fire service can always be asked for advice,’’ he said.
The fire brigade spent close to three hours at the scene.
Opotiki College principal Alex Maehe could not be reached for comment.
- Opotiki News