Coping with disaster

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 14:55 24/01/2013

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Upper Moutere's Sarau Festival will not only celebrate the community's unique flavours next month but act as a rallying point for locals after a devastating fire destroyed parts of the popular Moutere Hills Community Centre.

Tuesday's fire, which was thought to have started in the function room's ceiling, was discovered by a staff member opening the building for the school holiday programme.

Centre chairman Philip Leith said the woman heard noises in the ceiling, told her children to leave and got out as the ceiling panels fell in behind her.

He thanked the 10 crews of volunteer, rural and professional firefighters who responded to the alarm and saved most of the building.

The fire in the Tasman District Council-owned and community managed building was devastating but the community would rebound, Philip said.

"It's a manageable disaster."

The fire gutted the commercial kitchen and function room and damaged the roof. But the gymnasium, community meeting room, sports changing room, ablution block and office were largely unscathed.

The Rangers Rugby Club gear was untouched by the fire and the private historical records stored at the centre were safe, he said.

The centre was the community's activity hub and had taken on some Mapua events with the current rebuild of that community's hall.

The centre's management committee grouped around an outside table on Tuesday trying to find alternative venues for the myriad of booked activities.

"But the Sarau Festival on February 3 will go ahead to show this community can cope and bounce back," Philip said.

The festival was designed to showcase the community - this year the focus of the fundraiser would now be the centre's rebuild, he said.

The building was insured and its comprehensive alarm system was upgraded in October. The lack of pressurised reticulated water meant it did not have a sprinkler system.

Sarau Festival organiser Jenny Leith said the plan at this stage was to hold the festival on the centre's grounds.

"It's more important now than ever. Everyone can come and feel part of what has happened and show their support for the community and the centre."

Jenny said the main issue would be power supply for stallholders and sourcing a marquee. "But it's still going to be a great event."

Last year more than 5000 people attended the blackcurrant festival at the community centre site and from the proceeds the Sarau Community Trust distributed $13,400 to community organisations in Moutere.

Former centre chairman Steve Mitchell, who oversaw the fundraising and building of the centre which opened in 2005, said the fire was gutting but would be a rallying point for the community.

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District councillor Judene Edgar, who was on the centre's fundraising committee, said the main concern was the extent of structural damage to the roof.

The Sarau Festival would act as a point of focus for the community to gather and re-group.

"The centre was such an amazing facility and will be again."

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said rural centres like Moutere Hills were often the centre of local community life.

"Our thoughts are with the people of Upper Moutere. This council will be acting quickly to find both short and long-term solutions to this tragedy."

As a result of the fire the International Aromatics Symposium will now be held at Seifried Estate on February 1 and 2, the school holiday programme has been relocated to Upper Moutere School, Wednesday's outdoor movie was cancelled and some social sports will take place at the Motueka Recreation Centre. Details are available on the Moutere Hills Community Centre website.

- Nelson

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