Suspicious fire destroys league clubrooms (+video)

By Alexandra Newlove

The speed at which abandoned clubrooms at Jubilee Park went up in flames was "very unusual". Photo / Imran Ali, David Proctor
The speed at which abandoned clubrooms at Jubilee Park went up in flames was "very unusual". Photo / Imran Ali, David Proctor

A suspicious blaze at an abandoned rugby league clubroom was "waiting to happen", firefighters say.

On Saturday, the disused clubroom at Whangarei's Jubilee Park went up in flames, sparking more than 30 111 calls.

Whangarei Senior Station Officer Corey Matchitt was part of the fast and furious effort to extinguish the fire and said his crews had carried out "familiarisation training" in the Tarewa Rd park as they suspected it was only a matter of time before there was a major event there.

Firefighters dampen  a blaze that was "waiting to happen" at Whangarei's Jubliee Park. Photo / Tania Whyte
Firefighters dampen a blaze that was "waiting to happen" at Whangarei's Jubliee Park. Photo / Tania Whyte

"It's not the first time we've been there. We've been about three times in the last six months, but that's been smaller ones," he said. "We had trained for that building to go up."

The fire was being treated as suspicious and had been referred to the police.

Mr Matchitt said the building became engulfed in flames very quickly but the job was "fairly straightforward" for the four fire appliances that attended.

"It's very unusual for a building to be that fully involved so quickly," he said.


Mr Matchitt said there was not much the fire service could do about derelict buildings unless they posed an immediate risk to public safety.

Jubilee Park was owned by Whangarei City & District Rugby League Inc but had not been used by the club since 2011.

Board member Sharon Bird said the field was used daily by a nearby school and another section of the park was leased to an educational trust.

The board was waiting for a fire investigation to be finished before any decision could be made on the future of the grounds, including a large grandstand and changing rooms next to the burned-down club.

Whangarei Central Holiday Park is next door to Jubilee Park. A staff member who asked not to be named said he decided to err on the side of caution, evacuating people in cabins near the fenceline on Saturday.

"If the wind wasn't blowing the direction it was, we probably would've lost a couple of cabins," he said.

The park was a hot spot for vandalism, prompting him to call the police several times but "nothing much seems to happen", he said.

"It seems like there's [vandals] there every week ... It brings the whole area down."

Dot Ellery's Cooke St home was less than 100m from the blaze she described as "too close for comfort".

"It was scary - I saw smoke then heard the sirens. When I saw [fire] engines, that definitely got me worried. I can still smell the smoke from the fire," she said yesterday.

- Northern Advocate

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