A turtle miraculously survived an inferno in an aquarium which was so hot it boiled water in some tanks and killed hundreds of fish.
The blaze at the Mapua Aquarium near Nelson was one of three fires in the area early yesterday morning believed to have been the work of arsonists.
Fire investigator Lewis Jones said the fire caused "total destruction" in the building and was so intense it boiled water in some of the tanks and caused their glass to burst.
"Miraculously", a turtle somehow survived the fire, which killed everything else in the building.
"Fortunately for the turtle he must have been underwater in an area that didn't get so hot or he was in an area where there was a fair quantity of cold water running in from fire hoses," Mr Jones said.
"It was the one lovely thing about the whole job. Everything else is a gut-wrenching thing for the community."
The turtle seemed unscathed after its ordeal and was being looked after by aquarium staff.
While firefighters were battling the blaze at about 3am, they received calls about two other fires in the area, one in a wheelie bin on Iwa Street and another at the local tennis court pavilion.
These were quickly extinguished but the aquarium blaze took hours to control.
Police are treating all the fires as suspicious.
They asked anyone who took photos of any of the fires to contact Motueka police.