Maniapoto Department of Conservation staff have been left distraught after their field office in the Pureora Forest went up in flames after a lightning strike.
Staff who live near the Pureora field office were woken by loud bangs and raced to the scene to discover it was on fire about 4.30am today.
DoC Maniapoto operations manager Natasha Hayward had just returned from surveying the damage when she spoke to the Herald this afternoon.
She believed about 80 per cent of the base office was destroyed in the fire. They had managed to salvage only a few items, office furniture and electronics that were in one of the rooms.
"A lightning strike at a transformer has created a surge to that building which started an electrical fire and it went up pretty quickly. The staff who all live out there heard the loud bang, then saw the blaze and got down there quick smart."
However, due to "patchy mobile coverage" at the scene staff had to drive up the road to ring 111.
She said the cause of the fire was pretty random and had devastated local staff which numbered about six full-timers and a further six temporary staff in the summer. They are now assessing their options about where staff could work from.
The office is situated near the Timber Trail cycle route, a tourist hotspot which has boomed in popularity in recent years.
"We're currently assessing short-term and long-term options but we've got other buildings out at Pureora that we may be able to site the Pureora staff for a short time. those that are largely office-based people might have to work out of the Te Kuiti office for a time, we're just assessing what the longer term options are."
Fortunately nobody lived in the building or was in the office at the time it caught fire, she said.
Staff numbers fluctuated between six full-time staff 10 and 12 during the busier summer months.
It wasn't the only area to get by the weather bomb which lashed the country overnight.
Two Canadian tourists woke up to their car partly filled with water after sleeping in it in the Ruakuri Cave car park overnight. The pair, in their 20s, were rescued by Te Kuiti firefighters.
Hayward said the caves had since been closed as the heavy rain continued to pour down.
In the meantime, affected staff are still in recovery mode and the gravity of what happened would likely sink in over coming days.
"We're just salvaging what we could ... they're in immediate response mode but they'll be processing it over the next couple of days. It's pretty devastating."
Waikato specialist fire investigator Peter Hallett said the lightning struck an adjacent power pole and overloaded the power lines which run to the building, sparking an electrical fire.
"It's very simply a lightning strike. It's most probably hit a power pole prior travelling down the line to the building ... one of the two power poles it's hit has a lot of damage to the metering system and wires on the poles leading to the building."
The premises were originally the size of an average three-to-four-bedroom home. However, only one of the rooms survived.
The building would have to be demolished, he said.