A Northland rugby club is devastated at losing all its playing gear and equipment, including a recently-replaced ride-on lawnmower worth $35,000, in a suspicious fire.
The fire started in a shed at the Eastern United Rugby Football Club in Taipa, 30km north east of Kaitaia, about 5.30pm on Friday - less than 24 hours before weekly club rugby was to have resumed at the venue.
However, the domestic competition still went ahead on Saturday after donations from the Northland Rugby Union and other rugby clubs in the Far North.
Eastern United Rugby Football Club president, Dave Jurlina, said a new ride-on lawnmower worth $35,000 and a scrum machine valued at $3500, flags, and goalpost pads were among items lost in the fire.
"We had our lawnmower stolen in January and had finally sorted out the insurance and bought a new one but now that's gone too. It's quite devastating for our club," he said.
Mr Jurlina said the fire was believed to have started outside the shed and said the whole shed would have to be knocked down and rebuilt. He estimated total damage to be more than $45,000.
"Whoever did this did not think of the wider consequences because it's not just our club but the Taipa Area School which also use our field and gear.
"The Ngati Kahu Sharks' league club borrow surplus goalpost pads from us because they don't have any so that's why the whole community is pretty gutted.
He said the public offered financial help during club rugby on Saturday while other clubs also pitched in to help with playing gear.
We've got a pretty awesome community up here. At the end of the day when the dust finally settles, we'll rebuild and be bigger and better," Mr Jurlina said.
Officials at his club, he said, would sort out an insurance claim next week while police investigations into the fire continued. He said none of the club facilities have previously been targeted by arsonists.
Police have confirmed an investigation into the fire was under way. Fire investigator Michael Champtaloup said he did not find an accidental cause for the blaze.
He said the roof of the shed was still standing but the frame was gutted.
"Half the room had electricity but the other half, which was gutted, did not but it had the lawnmower and other stuff that were destroyed. It's a real shame because the club had recently replaced the lawnmower and there was other stuff that was new."
He would not comment on the source of the fire except that he did not find any accelerant on site.