Fire threatens precious 200-year-old waka

Last updated 05:00 02/06/2014

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A fire at Hamilton's Waikato Museum last night nearly consumed a 200-year-old waka that is the prize of its collection, but the building's sprinkler system saved the day.

Seven fire crews from Hamilton and as far afield as Ngaruawahia were dispatched to the museum on Grantham St. 

The Fire Service's Waikato area commander Roy Breeze said the blaze had apparently began near the majestic Te Winika, a 200-year-old carved waka taua (Maori war canoe) of Ngaati Tipa; Ngaati Maahanga and Ngaati Maru collaboration.

All the floors of the building suffered some smoke damage, he said. The fire was extinguished at 9.30pm.

"It looks like it might have started on a wooden table, near the end of the waka.

"We are having to isolate the area until we can get a specialist investigator in to assess how the fire started."

The building houses an art, history and science collection of 38,000 pieces.

It is also the current home of several touring exhibitions, including the popular Roman Machines collection.

"It's quite a hard building to vent," Breeze said.

"It's very smoke-logged.

"Without a doubt the building's sprinkler system saved it from a lot more damage."

Te Winika was gifted to Waikato Museum by Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu in 1973 as a gesture of fellowship and goodwill with the city of Hamilton.

The waka was restored by a team of carvers led by Piri Poutapu in the 1930s after being buried in mud for 70 years.

Poutapu, who had a carving school at Tuurangawaewae Marae, researched Waikato carving styles and carved the bow, figurehead, sternpost and sides. 

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