Family saves centre again
A PLAYCENTRE is counting its lucky stars after neighbourhood vigilance saved it from an alleged arson attack for the second time.
Hillsborough resident Greg Emirali says he was collecting the paper from his letterbox at 5am last Wednesday when he smelt smoke in the air.
‘‘I looked around and could see a whole lot of smoke coming over from the playcentre and I could see the flames which were jumping around probably about waist-high,’’ he says.
‘‘I got a bit closer and I could make out a teenager there and I said ‘ what are you doing mate, this is stupid’.’’
Mr Emirali ran home to get a bucket of water to extinguish the flames, which fortunately had not spread beyond the centre’s deck.
The fire damaged about six planks, which will need replacing.
Hillsborough Playcentre coordinator Sarah Baker says it is lucky Mr Emirali intervened when he did and stopped more serious damage from occurring.
‘‘He’s a really good neighbour and he looks out for this place when we are not here.
‘‘We are really grateful for that,’’ she says. ‘‘We are a parent-run cooperative, so people who come here are local families and mums with their kids, so it would have been quite devastating to lose it.’’
Ms Baker says she is also impressed with the response of the police team who showed up within 30 minutes of being called.
The centre, which is tucked at the bottom of Currie Ave, has been the target of vandals who drink in the neighbouring West Park.
Every morning the parents have to check the property to make sure there is no broken glass or dangerous objects before letting the children play in the large yard.
‘‘We quite often get teenagers jumping the fence here, they jump on top of the sun shade and we have sustained some damage to that in recent years,’’ Ms Baker says.
She says it is the first time in recent years the centre has been subject of a more serious attack.
However, it is the second time the Hillsborough Playcentre has been saved from a blaze by a member of the Emirali family, who have lived in the street more than 50 years.
‘‘My sister, many years ago, when she was about 12, stopped a fire here,’’ Mr Emirali says.
‘‘There used to be a big bank of pine trees at the back and there was a fire growing in the base.’’
For her efforts Pamela was featured in a 1974 edition of the Central Leader.
Detective Martin Friend says police are still searching for the young man in connection with the alleged arson.
‘‘Although it was minor in nature, it really had the potential to cause a huge amount of damage and effect the families that use the centre,’’ Mr Friend says.
‘‘It would be great if anybody who knows anything can come forward.’’
The youth in question is described as being about 17 years old, fair-skinned, about 1.76 metres (5ft 9in) tall, of slim build with sandy hair. He was wearing tightfitted blue jeans and a lightcoloured hoodie.
He was also carrying skateboard and a hockey stick.
Please phone 09 820 5741 if you have any information.
Saved: Sarah Baker and Katie from Hillsborough Playcentre. Behind them is the patch of decking allegedly lit by a teen arsonist.