A series of suspicious fires in Whanganui's Seafront Road have condemned a house to demolition and spread asbestos fibres through parts of Castlecliff.
Fire crews were first summoned to a vegetation fire near Morgan Street in the early hours of December 29. It was difficult to get to, station officer Jason Hamlin said, but extinguished within an hour.
Half an hour later an empty house at 42 Seafront Rd was on fire. That was put out in half an hour, and firefighters left the scene.
Then, just after 8am, they got a call to say the same house was again on fire.
Two trucks attended, and firefighters used breathing apparatus and quickly had the raging flames under control. This time the house was extensively damaged.
All three fires were suspicious, Hamlin said.
Seafront Rd resident Bruce Tonkin was just going for a walk on Saturday morning when he heard the crackling noise of the fire and saw black smoke.
Another witness said he had been parked at a nearby lookout in a campervan earlier that morning. He told Tonkin a car with young people who had been drinking pulled up beside him, and one of them went down to the house and came running back 20 minutes later.
The fire started and the man rang the police.
Firefighters extinguished the flames quickly, Tonkin said. They stayed at the scene for nearly two hours, and barriers were erected around the corner property.
On Sunday morning council staff in protective gear were inside the barriers spraying foliage around the house.
The spray binds small abestos fibres together so that they can't blow around, Whanganui District Council lead building control officer Chris Gould said.
Smoke from the fire blew a long way, and neighbours have been contacted by Public Health to inform them of possible danger from asbestos.
The owner or insurer of the house will be asked to demolish it, Gould said. If that doesn't happen the council will have to do so.
Seafront Rd resident Trevor Soler said kids had been using the house, but no one was staying there at the time of the fire. He also said real estate agents had been there recently.
This weekend's fire was the third at the property, neighbours said. The first happened in late July 2016, and spread from the house next door on a night with gale force winds that carried large embers quite a distance.
The cause of the fire next door was never determined, but the strong wind spread it to number 42 where an elderly man was living. He was treated for smoke inhalation, but otherwise uninjured.
A woman in the house where the fire started was missing for a time. She was searched for by Urban Search and Rescue, but found alive and well.
*This weekend's Castlecliff fires follow a suspicious fire on Thursday which gutted the Chef's Kitchen food outlet in Springvale.