Arsonists target derelict college again

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2014
Cameron Burenll/Fairfaxmedia

Firefighters battle a huge fire at a school in Petone, north of Wellington.

Petone College fire
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ
HEALTH, SAFETY DANGER: Firefighters try to put out a blaze at the former Petone College.

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A dozen fire crews battled a suspicious blaze at an abandoned Petone school repeatedly targeted by arsonists.

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

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 in to the night.

Mr Sullivan expected it would be this morning before an inspection of the building could be done.

Petone resident John Jameson was watching the blaze with his 6-month-old daughter, Anthea, and said the school was covered in graffiti and broken glass after being unoccupied for so long.

"The place looks like a warzone."

He said it had been derelict for about 15 years and two of the five buildings were now burnt down.

There wasn't a window pane on the site that hadn't been smashed and homeless people and teenagers were regularly seen hanging about the old school, he said.

Petone man Ben Dawson said it was the old hall and administration block that had caught fire, which was often used as a bit of a "refuge".

Mr Dawson heard the first fire crew arrive and said it wasn't long before the neighbourhood was full of trucks, police and pedestrians stopping by to watch the inferno.

In 2012 aged-care company Ryman bought the 3.3 hectare site of the old school, which closed in 1998, to develop its latest village.

While it would ultimately be home to several hundred residents, and employ more than 100 staff, Ryman planned to develop it in stages over four to five years.

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- The Dominion Post

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