Arsonists 'sure to be found'

By Peter Jackson

The teacher at an early childhood centre which was engulfed by flames after an arson attack has said the culprits are sure to be found in the small town.

The fire has ravaged the Sandhoppers early childhood centre in Ahipara, where Amy Bolstad works.

The blaze burned through Nga Puriri, the room which the older children use, destroying their bikes and other toys, and killing caged birds inside the room.

Ms Bolstad said the children would be devastated when they saw what had happened.

"It's like someone has died," she said.

"This is a small town though and it won't take us long to find out who did this.

"Everything's insured but we can't replace all the things that have been lost. We had just finished making the wall all pretty."

Detective Sergeant Trevor Beatson, of Kaitaia police, said tens of thousands of dollars in damage had been done.

He said the blaze would devastate the Sandhoppers "family" and the wider Ahipara community.

The arsonist had ignited anger and hurt, which would be difficult to contain, throughout the community.

Fire investigator Gary Beer said crews from Ahipara and Kaitaia had done an excellent job of containing the blaze.

Damage was restricted to the one room, the rest of the centre remaining unscathed.

Mr Beer said it might have been a different story but for the fact that the cleaner saw flames as she drove past on her way to Auckland at 4am.

The centre had been the target of vandals and taggers in the past but nothing had ever happened on this scale, Ms Bolstad said.

Mr Beer had no difficulty establishing where the fire had started, at the edge of what appeared to be a verandah adjacent to the Ahipara School playing field. He had no doubt that it had been deliberately lit.

Detectives and fire safety officers had completed their scene examination by mid-morning on Saturday, and would be assessing what they had found for evidential value, he said. Police were also speaking with potential witnesses.

Mr Beatson asked members of the community to come forward with any information they might have.

"Given that the fire was reported at 4am, someone here will know who is responsible for it," he said.

"We want to hear from anyone who had a family member or friend out roaming around between 3am and 4am. It may be that they were involved.

"Please help us to make them accountable and put a stop to this activity in the Ahipara area." Any information should go to the Kaitaia police station, phone (09) 408 6500 or to Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

- Northern Advocate

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