Locals vow to rebuild after blaze

A rural Northland community is in mourning but vowing to rebuild after a marae wharenui was destroyed by fire.

Locals at Mokau Marae, 45km north of Whangarei, could only watch as firefighters doused the blaze after the alarm was raised about 1pm yesterday.

Despite their efforts little remained of the building that held many memories for those gathered.

Specialist fire investigator Terry Baylis conducted an initial scene examination and contacted police who were to carry out further investigations today. It was unclear at this stage what had caused the blaze.


Two-and-a-half hours after the fire was first noticed firefighters dropped their hoses on the ground, hugged their helmets under their arms and bowed their heads and listened to a visibly upset kaumatua Rawiri Piripi.

He thanked them for coming to help the rural community and acknowledged it would be a challenge to rebuild the marae, but it would happen.

As he spoke rain began to fall and puffs of smoke rose from the buckled corrugated iron and charred carvings.

After a karakia (prayer) and waiata (song) the locals lined up to hongi each of the firefighters, who came from Russell, Hikurangi and Whangarei.

Chairman of Mokau Marae David Scott said the community was devastated. When he arrived flames were coming from the windows and two men were trying to dampen down pillars on the nearby wharekai (dining area), which was undergoing renovation.

Mr Scott said he had been at the marae on Thursday. A fitness group session had been held on Thursday night and a group had been weaving tukutuku panels during the day.

"The fire just spread and it crept into the roof of the toilet blocks and storage area. Thank goodness it didn't spread to the wharekai," Mr Scott said. "We have had our problems over the years trying to get funding and now with this, I don't know what will happen."

He said the marae did not have a sprinkler system but funding gained for renovations had covered the installation of sprinklers.


Mattresses and chairs stored in the marae had gone up in smoke, however, no photos were inside. The marae was insured.

Children at the kohanga over the fence were evacuated.

Mokau resident John Sadler could remember the first time he had gone to the marae as a 6-year-old with his father, Lang.

"This place has a lot of feeling for all of us here. We are all feeling the hurt at the moment."

Houpeke Piripi jnr said he could tell by the look on people's faces there was some confusion and anguish but they would come together and rebuild the marae.