A donation of $5000 for Whareama School this week started life as milk for neighbours in need and smoke in the air months earlier, said principal Darren Kerr.
Fire investigators are expected to soon confirm suspicions that workers with chainsaws on a windy spring day in November last year accidentally ignited a blaze in a Juken New Zealand forest block about 5km from the school.
The fire raged for more than two weeks, destroying about 200ha of pine trees before troops of firefighters, by ground and air, brought the ferocious blaze under control.
Whareama School, and the East Coast Rugby Club, threw open the nearby Whareama Domain Hall as a headquarters for fire crews, Juken NZ and rural fire parties, and helicopter pilots. The school also gave command crews the use of office equipment and Wi-Fi connections, Mr Kerr said. "It all started for us when we smelt smoke in the air and saw choppers and a fire truck coming in.
"Once we realised there was a fire, and some thirsty firefighters, we grabbed some of our Fonterra Milk in Schools allocation and shot down there with gear to make cups of tea."
He said East Coast Rugby Club representative Dick Tredwell and himself opened and kitted out the hall, which became the fire command headquarters, and he spoke with Juken NZ forest manager Sean McBride.
Mr McBride had inquired about the area that had been readied at the school for the artificial turf court, Mr Kerr said.
"I asked him on that first day how we could help, and told him we were a community that stuck together and helped each other out," he said.
"We started with giving them something to drink and opening the hall to them, and they really took it over during the weeks the fire was burning - they had a lot of whiteboards, a lot of paper, and a lot of people.
"There was definitely more than a hundred people using the hall at times and I've never seen the carpark there so full.
"There was cars and trucks and huge diggers."
Mr Kerr said the donation of $5000 had been utterly unexpected and had bridged a funding shortfall for an artificial turf tennis and netball court at the school that cost about $45,000 and had taken the greater part of a decade to achieve.
"Sean McBride and I had talked about the project and he must have kept it in his mind we needed $5000 to make it happen.
"He told us Juken wanted to give back to the entire community, and the best way of doing that was through the school."
The artificial turf court would be officially opened on April 1, he said.
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