The school year will get off to a slow but tough start for the community of Esk View after a weekend fire that severely damaged its community centre and playgroup centre.

The fire in the facilities - developed by the community from a former Scout hall at Petane Domain, off Onehunga Rd south of Bay View - was reported at 1.40pm on Saturday.

It gutted one room and left the rest damaged by smoke and water.

But the cause of the fire remained a mystery yesterday. Esk View Playgroup secretary Carla Pell said the building was not being used at the time, it was secure and fire crews found no signs of forced entry, and the electricity had been turned off.

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Also damaged was an amenities block which was recently refurbished after it was flooded by a burst water pipe. The block was scheduled to be shown-off at an open day to thank the community for its contributions.

Support for the refurbishment had ranged from fundraising cake stalls to actual labour in carrying out the work.

Most groups that use the centre have lost something in the fire. Although firefighters managed to salvage some of the playgroup toys from a closed storage room, yesterday they still carried the smoky stench from the fire.

Mrs Pell said it was a well-used facility and "much-loved" building that would have been even busier this week with a new martial arts class booked to start today and the playgroup set to start its new year tomorrow. Other regular users of the building include the children's hip-hop and "mums and bubs" fitness classes.

About 30 families are on the playgroup's books, with Mrs Pell's own children among them.

With much of the contents of the building uninsured, she was not sure how long it might be before the centre was up and running again. "I think it's going to be a couple of months," she said.

"The fire has gutted the main room, the rest is all smoke-damaged, and paint is peeling back. It's a real bugger."