The most likely cause of the fire that severely damaged Whangārei's Old Town Hall is an electrical fault in a light fitting, according to experts sifting through the charred remains.

A blaze broke out in the 107-year-old building last Thursday about 12.45pm, forcing the evacuation of community groups that use the property on Bank St in Central Whangārei.

Firefighters were quick on the scene and able to isolate the blaze to one corner of the building. However, the landmark clock tower was severely damaged and had to be removed and taken into storage late on Friday.

Specialist fire investigator Craig Bain was able to get into the building on Friday morning and identified the seat of the fire as starting in the false ceiling cavity in a top-floor room used by Literacy New Zealand.

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The instability of the clock tower meant further investigations were halted until it was removed.

Bain was back in the building on Monday and expected to complete the investigation yesterday.

Smoke billows down Bank St early on as the first few firefighters went in to douse the blaze. Photo / Kristin Edge
Smoke billows down Bank St early on as the first few firefighters went in to douse the blaze. Photo / Kristin Edge

"The most likely cause is electrical and in a light connection up in the false ceiling," he said.

Some items were being sent away to be examined as part of the investigation.

Some parts of the historic building were damaged by smoke and water, while some parts were almost untouched. Hopes are high that the building can be repaired to its former glory.

The council's community general manager Sandra Boardman said it was clear from public feedback the building was much loved, highly valued with lots of memories for many in the community.

She confirmed the building was insured but there was a $5000 excess. Monthly building warrant of fitness checks were conducted by Building Fire Security Services and the building was fire compliant. In the past few weeks the fire plan was updated.

Quick actions by Fire and Emergency teams meant the blaze was contained to one corner of the historic building. Photo / Kristin Edge
Quick actions by Fire and Emergency teams meant the blaze was contained to one corner of the historic building. Photo / Kristin Edge

Boardman said the building was equipped with fire alarms, hoses and fire extinguishers, but it did not have sprinklers because that was not required.

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She said people had asked whether the fire was related to an earlier fire caused by a light fitting in that part of the building about six months ago.

"That incident was investigated by fire and power services and the building was judged to be safe, so we are waiting for the results of an investigation.''

Work was being done to re-locate the community groups together in another building.

Mayor Sheryl Mai said the Old Town Hall would be restored, though its clock tower may have to be completely rebuilt as it was virtually destroyed in the blaze.