Fire crews rush to battle Moutere blaze

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 08:45 22/01/2013

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Fire ripped through the Moutere Hills Community Centre yesterday leaving its interior a blackened and charred mess.

Former centre chairman Steve Mitchell was shocked at the damage.

"It's just gutting for the whole community to take a look inside it's heartbreaking," Mr Mitchell said. The alarm was raised by a woman who went to open up the centre this morning for the school holiday programme, he said.

"She went in the main entrance and turned the lights on and heard some popping and cracking, turned around to walk out and the ceiling panels started to collapse."

Mr Mitchell said the woman escaped unharmed.

Fire crews from around the region raced to the centre to fight the blaze, which appeared to be in the open-plan centre's ceiling. Smoke initially poured out of the centre's split level roof line and any open windows until it was brought under control at about 9.30am.

At the scene Upper Moutere chief fire officer Fred Ewers said it was difficult at this stage to say how the fire started but it appeared to originate from the building's kitchen area in the southwestern corner. "Then it's travelled along the function room to the main entrance in the northwestern corner."

Three fire crews at a time entered the building in breathing apparatus to fight the fire with high pressure water sourced from tankers and a nearby stream. A fan was used to blow the toxic smoke out of the building.

Mr Ewers said the building's open plan layout meant there was probably considerable smoke damage throughout the structure.

Crews from Appleby, Upper Moutere, Motueka, Stoke, Nelson and Mapua attended the fire along with the region's HazMat command centre.

Local resident and Ranger Rugby Club member Steve Berkett said the fire was a "bloody shame".

Mr Berkett - also a policeman in Nelson - said the centre was always busy and the hub of the rural community. Mr Mitchell said he was pleased no lives were lost, and impressed with the fast turnout of police and fire crews to the scene. "It's only material damage, and I'm sure Upper Moutere will rebound - it's a pretty robust community. But it's gutting."

The Moutere Hills Community Centre and Sports Complex was built in the Upper Moutere domain in October 2005 to replace the old local hall and to provide better facilities for the Upper Moutere sportsground.

A school holiday programme had restarted yesterday. An outdoor movie was scheduled to run on Thursday night and the Sarau Festival, showcasing Moutere produce, art and crafts was scheduled to be staged there on February 3.

The centre was a reflection of a successful community hub and was held up as a good example of what communities could achieve, said Tasman District Council's former corporate services manager David Ward, who at the time was a main driver of the project on the council's part.

The centre was built as a largely local initiative where residents in the area agreed to directly fund the original building costs in conjunction with a large contribution from the TDC.

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Tasman District councillor Judene Edgar said the building cost $2.4 million to build, and was the hub of the community.

It had taken about six years of planning and fundraising to get the centre built, with funding coming from the council's community facilities rate. The community had raised 20 per cent of the building's costs, while the council had provided 80 per cent.

It is the second major fire in the region in the past week.

Seven fire appliances and 30 firefighters were called to a serious fire in a storage facility in a building next to the Elma Turner Library and Prego Mediterranean Foods last Wednesday.

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