Fam­ily saves cen­tre again

Central Leader - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

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.

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Photo: DANIELLE STREET

Saved: Sarah Baker and Katie from Hills­bor­ough Play­cen­tre. Be­hind them is the patch of deck­ing al­legedly lit by a teen ar­son­ist.

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