Quick thinking by people staying at a Lake Rotoiti marae has prevented a disaster with the Fire Service saying it is a timely reminder for other marae to check their fire safety procedures.

At 3pm on Saturday fire crews from Rotoma and Rotorua responded to an electrical fire in the meeting house of Taurua Marae on the shores of Lake Rotoiti.

According to the Fire Services' National Maori adviser Piki Thomas buildings at the marae were evacuated and the fire extinguished due to the quick thinking of whanau who were staying there at the time.

"This is a timely reminder for all marae to manage the risk of fire for our whare tupuna (ancestral houses)," he said.


Lynette Taylor said about 30 to 40 whanau were gathered for a combined unveiling on the weekend when some children spotted flames coming from an electrical fire at the back of the marae.

"We could all smell something and went to have a look and I saw some sparks and a few small flames.

"My brother-in-law jumped up there and used a crow bar to open it up.

"It was lucky we spotted it because just about everyone had left to go to the hot pools. If it was five or 10 minutes later it could a been a different story."

Whanau members grabbed fire extinguishers, pulled photos off the wall of the wharenui and pulled mattresses away from the danger area.

"With a bit of quick thinking and lots of hands thankfully everything was okay and there was only minor damage," Ms Taylor said.

The marae was equipped with a fire alarm, smoke alarms and extinguishers.

Marae member Willie Emery said if the fire wasn't seen, then extinguished by the whanau, the damage would have been catastrophic.

He supported the call for marae to improve fire safety.

"I belong to many marae around here and I'm told that the combination of aged wiring, tinder dry wooden construction and newly introduced electrical appliances make marae ticking time bombs if not maintained properly."

Mr Thomas urged all marae to consider fire safety for their buildings - particularly for sleeping areas.

"Marae fire safety is aligned to the ethos of manaaki tangata, or caring for one another.

"Most marae buildings are constructed with little or no fire rated materials to reduce fire spread and even if marae were, the open plan layout of the buildings isn't designed to stem the spread of fire.

"Marae need early fire detection systems to detect fires while they are small and an evacuation plan to provide a safe and speedy evacuation of the building for the occupants.

He said fire service staff were available to discuss marae fire safety options.

This free service is available to all marae by contacting (0800) MAHUIKA - (0800) 624 8452.