Boys own up to starting squash club fire

By Alexandra Newlove

Kerikeri Squash Club's two sprung-floor courts have been left extensively damaged  after a fire on Saturday.
Kerikeri Squash Club's two sprung-floor courts have been left extensively damaged after a fire on Saturday.

The leaders of a 125-member squash club are "devastated" after a fire destroyed their clubroom, forcing them to close for the season and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.

Kerikeri Squash Club caught fire about 5am on Saturday after two 14-year-olds allegedly lit a fire in an attached pavilion, which they said accidentally spread into the clubhouse.

The Cobham Rd building is owned by Far North District Council and also hosted a youth group which has been forced to halt its weekly meetings.

Squash club president Dave Collins said it could take up to a year to repair the facility, including two courts with specially sprung floors.

Damage was likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, though the club was insured, he said.

"It's disappointing, well, it's devastating, actually.".

The closest squash courts were 30 minutes drive away and the club had been forced to cancel events including a junior tournament next weekend.

The club has a growing membership, with more than 100 seniors and 25 juniors.

Past president Claude Shepherd said it had a "proud history" and had produced national champions.

"Those courts were built by the community, for the community," he said.

Both men said they wanted to reassure members they were working towards a contingency plan for the club.

A police spokeswoman said officers were talking to two 14-year-olds who had allegedly lit the blaze using paper and twigs on the veranda of the clubroom at the top of the adjoining grandstand.

The boys told police the wall of the clubhouse then accidentally caught alight and the pair tried unsuccessfully to stomp out the fire, which travelled up the wall and into the ceiling of the clubroom. The boys rang 111 and waited for emergency services to arrive. Charges had not yet been laid yesterday afternoon.

Pete Poharama had run the There's a Better Way Youth Group from the building for about a year.

"We were about to have a big celebration to celebrate one year in that building," he said. Each Friday afternoon Mr Poharama and his partner Teana Apiata opened the space to about 40 young people, feeding them, providing entertainment and a listening ear.

The fire had damaged the group's ping pong table, but the pool tables had survived.

"We're just doing what we do so the kids have something else to do other than, say, burning fires."

- Northern Advocate

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