From the outside, the Waiharara School house didn't look too badly damaged after fire ripped through it on Friday afternoon, but it was a different story inside.



Kaitaia Fire Brigade station officer Craig Rogers said the lounge and kitchen bore the brunt of the fire, the latter having no structural support left whatsoever by the time the blaze had been extinguished.



Crews from Houhora and Kaitaia fought the fire, but the flames had taken hold in the ceilings by the time they arrived, and the damage was always going to be extensive. The cause is still under investigation but it is suspected as having started in the lounge or kitchen, possibly as the result of a failed multiboard. The stove had all but been ruled out as the starting point, Mr Rogers said.



Under the circumstances, he added, the crews had done an exceptional job. Smoke had been pouring from under the eaves from one side the house to the other by the time the first appliance arrived, he said, and there had never been any real prospect of saving it from anything but total destruction.

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The house is owned (and insured) by the school but is tenanted. The occupants were not at home at the time.



The one problem firefighters did not have was finding water, the school pool providing 25,000 litres before the job was declared done.



Meanwhile, a rented home in Melody Lane, Mangonui, was gutted by fire on Sunday morning, according to police as the result of a child playing with a lighter in a bedroom. All three adults and three children who were there at the time escaped unscathed, although an infant was checked at Kaitaia Hospital for the possible effects of smoke inhalation.



According to police the fire was well established when it was discovered by one of the adults, and the Mangonui Fire Brigade had no chance to saving it from extensive interior damage.



Chief fire officer Peter Sainsbury said the situation would have been even worse had it not been for the brigade's new water tanker, which was dispatched to support two appliances. The tanker provided a much better supply of water than would otherwise have been available, he said, meaning one of two neighbouring houses was saved from major damage.



Mr Sainsbury expressed his gratitude to the local community and sponsors of last month's Doubtless Bay fishing contest for their support in raising funds for what he described as a precious asset for the community.