A school community is devastated about a spate of suspicious and costly fires in South Auckland.
One man was arrested last week and has been charged with 15 counts of arson, and the Herald can also reveal police have arrested and charged a second person.
Several properties were targeted in the arson attacks throughout the wider Papakura and Pukekohe area during the past month, including Puni School.
Another school was targeted and broken into but not set alight.
Show homes and vacant houses being built were also torched.
The Herald understands the fires have caused damage worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
Puni School principal Haydon Brill said the fire had "completely gutted" one of the school's classrooms, which could cost more than $100,000 to replace.
"Fortunately, the fire brigade got here very quickly - they said in another couple of minutes we would have lost a lot more," he said.
It appeared an accelerant had been used to fan the flames, Brill said.
"It wasn't a smouldering pile, it wasn't a slow burn."
A new classroom, including wiring for a security system, internet cabling and the necessary furniture, could cost the school more than $100,000, Brill said, although much of that would be covered by insurance.
It would be harder, Brill said, to replace the children's personal belongings and the resources some teachers had used for a decade.
"We are a 10-classroom school and we are going to have to work from nine for the rest of the year," the principal said.
Yesterday was the first day pupils were able to enter two surrounding classrooms after the fire - the space had to be safe before they could go in.
"We are devastated, we are angry but we are also incredibly relieved that we have had support. We're incredibly relieved that [police] have found someone," Brill said.
Show homes had previously been set ablaze during the series of arsons, which had police hunting an unidentified firebug, but Brill said targeting a school was a more shocking act.
"It's been the hardest thing to comprehend," he added.
The biggest question pupils had when they returned to school, he said, was, "Why? Why us?".
"That was really hard because I was unable to answer that question at all ... this one just stopped us in our tracks".
The pupils also raised fears with their teachers, concerned the arsonists might return.
Brill praised the police's effort and subsequent investigation, explaining that on the night of the fire, officers remained on site throughout the night conducting patrols.
After the blaze, Brill said, an outpouring of support had come from local businesses and nearby growers. Nine nearby schools also held mufti days to raise funds for Puni School, which traces its roots back to 1878.
"The community has been absolutely amazing," Brill said.
"There's more good than bad in the world."
The Ministry of Education had also supported the school.
The accused arsonists
A 21-year-old man was arrested and charged with 15 charges of arson and one count of burglary last Friday.
He appeared in the Papakura District Court and was granted interim name suppression.
Other details about the case have also been suppressed by the court.
The Herald can also reveal a second man, a 21-year-old farm hand, has been charged as a co-accused.
He appeared in the Papakura District Court on Monday and was also charged with 15 counts of arson and one charge of burglary.
Both men will appear in court again this month.
Counties Manukau South Area Commander Inspector Dave Glossop said during the hunt for the alleged arsonists that the fires were "very concerning".
"We have put together an investigation team and are working closely with Fire and Emergency New Zealand," he said.
"We estimate the total damage to the properties to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not higher."
After the initial arrest, Glossop hoped the apprehension of the accused arsonist would provide some degree of comfort to the many victims and to the communities across the wider Papakura and Pukekohe areas.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the investigation team who have been working around the clock to identify the alleged offender and hold them to account," he said.