The quick thinking of a father in a Cub Scouts group avoided fatalities at the intense fire which destroyed much of a Wellington marae early today, Scouts New Zealand says.
Thirty-five people in a scouting group were at the marae - 27 Cubs aged 8-11 from Ngaio in Wellington, two teenage Venturer Scouts, five adult leaders and one parent.
Scouts NZ chief executive Joshua Tabor said all got out unharmed, "thanks to one of our volunteers who awoke to see smoke and flames just after midnight and quickly took action to get all the kids out.
"We are reasonably certain that had they not acted quickly there would have been fatalities. We are deeply grateful to them."
Ngaio Scouts leader Hadyn Nicholls, who was not at the marae, said it was the parent who stayed overnight who first detected the fire.
"They did grab a hose and have a go - they grabbed the fire hose that was there and realised pretty quickly it was futile."
He said the fire spread fast and caused the three-tier structure to collapse on itself.
The Cubs were at Tapu Te Ranga Marae in Rhine St, Island Bay on an overnight stay completing their Māori cultural awareness badge.
"The leaders and parents got them out leaving every belonging," Tabor said. "They took refuge in a neighbour's house. The neighbour looked after them until the parents came and picked them up early in the morning."
"We are working through with the Fire Service to get representatives in to debrief the kids so they have a way of contextualising what they have been through.
"We have heard some of the kids are doing okay. Some of the parents are a bit shaken up. We are working to get them connected with our counselling services so they can cope with it the best they can."
The sprawling live-in marae building was destroyed, but firefighters managed to save the main meeting hall.
Every fire truck in the capital and some from outside the city battled the inferno at its peak. Around 70 firefighters fought the blaze. One was taken to hospital after suffering burned hands.
Tapu Te Ranga Marae
The people of the marae are devastated by their loss, but have immediately started raising funds for a rebuild.
A Givealittle page had by 9.40 tonight recorded more than $35,000 in donations.
The marae was founded in 1974 by former prisoner Bruce Stewart to help the young who were Māori drifting into the city from rural areas to connect with their cultural roots. He later said the project began with "just $25 and a dream". But he also credited then-Wellington mayor Michael Fowler with providing important support.
The $25 was a down payment for a house in Rhine St where the growing marae came to be built from recycled materials.
Stewart's vision was for a community marae where everyone belonged. It was a place that welcomed homeless Maori men and provided trade training.
Stewart died in June 2017, aged 80.