A Whangarei lunch bar and an office have been badly smoke-damaged after a deliberately-lit fire.
Teams of firefighters from Whangarei and volunteers from Portland and Onerahi were called to Rewarewa Rd about 7.10pm on Monday.
Just two hours earlier, fire crews were called to a scrub fire in Smeaton Drive about 1km away, and police are investigating if the two fires are linked.
Fire safety investigator Gary Beer said there were multiple 111 calls to the fire service and when the first crews arrived at Rewa Rewa Rd there were flames licking the outside of the cafe building. The fire spread through the ceiling cavity but the firefighters contained the flames. Firefighters using breathing apparatus worked inside the smoke-logged adjoining businesses.
Roadhouse Lunchbar and Cafe business owner Phallay Ea arrived outside the business he has run for the past three years to find firefighters and emergency services blocking the road.
"I was really upset and panicking. There was firefighters there and we weren't allowed in."
He, his wife and a cafe worker were at the scene yesterday morning to clean up. Mr Ea was appreciative of the firefighters who had taken the time to cover his drinks fridges and cafe benches with tarpaulins as they worked to douse the fires.
An insurance assessor was to examine the damage yesterday, followed by an electrician. Part of the ceiling in the cafe had to be removed to ensure all the hot spots were extinguished.
Whangarei police Detective Sergeant Mike Blowers said three boys aged between eight and 12 were seen standing near the fence outside the cafe before the fire.
He said about 5pm, children were seen lighting a fire near a walkway on Smeaton Drive.
Police were unsure if the two deliberate fires were linked and would like to hear from anyone who may have information.
Contact Detective Sergeant Mike Blowers, phone 09 430 4500.