The smell of smoke is still strong in parts of the Hawke's Bay Opera House, three days after arsonists hit.

Hawke's Bay Today visited the scene of the fire yesterday, which broke out shortly after 10pm on Sunday.

Emergency services spent three hours quelling the fire, which started behind the stage area, on the ground floor of the three-storey building.

After conducting their investigations, the police and fire service confirmed that the fire, along with two others on the same night within a 1km radius, was being treated as suspicious.

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It is understood a crowbar was used to break into the loading bay at the back of the commercial building, where a trolley full of old wires was set alight.

It caused damage in the immediate vicinity, as well as smoke damage to floors above.

Part of the ceiling caved due to heat and hose pressure. Photo / Warren Buckland.
Part of the ceiling caved due to heat and hose pressure. Photo / Warren Buckland.

The loading bay, which was not due to be touched in the current earthquake strengthening project will now have to repaired. Despite this, council says it will still be completed by the August 2019 target date and on budget.

Focus Project manager Herman Wismeyer said, "It's just really disappointing that people think it is okay to do this kind of stuff.

"It is such a shame. It is using the fire service resources that could be put to use somewhere else."

Yesterday, blackened rubble and parts of the ceiling which had caved due to the heat and hose pressure, were being removed.

The hole cut by firefighters in the roller door is still visible and vintage posters are burnt and peeling off the walls.

Damaged historic posters can be seen peeling off the walls in the loading bay of the Hawke's Bay Opera House. Photo / Warren Buckland.
Damaged historic posters can be seen peeling off the walls in the loading bay of the Hawke's Bay Opera House. Photo / Warren Buckland.

A Hastings District Council spokeswoman said the major challenge will be dealing with the soot and smell in the stage area that spread all the way up to the roof space.

"Fortunately proper protocols had been followed, which prevented the smoke from extending beyond the back stage and stage area. As such, the auditorium was unaffected."

There was, however, a lot of soot to be cleaned up on the stage, and the stage roof areas including the curtains and theatre rigging system.

Clean-up costs and logistics were being discussed with the council's insurers.

Councillor Malcolm Dixon said he had talked to some of the team from Gemco carrying out the earthquake strengthening work.

"These people are very proud to be involved in this project and it's a bit tough on them that something like this has happened. I want to acknowledge their efforts."

Wismeyer said more CCTV cameras would be installed and live-monitored.

Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said it was really disappointing to have parts of the Opera House damaged.

"We are really grateful for the hard work and dedication given to this project by our contractors, community and all those involved in the project. We are really confident this beloved community facility will be open again by this time next year."