Aotea’s Horouta ki Poneke marae narrowly avoided a major inferno when it was targeted in the Queen’s Birthday Weekend arson attack.
A fire was lit under an overhanging part of the marae’s wharekai which is full of gas cylinders.
If the fire had not been spotted early by a neighbour, the wooden structure would have soon burned to the ground. A 43-year-old Porirua man has been charged at Lower Hutt District Court with 10 counts of arson.
More than a dozen fires were lit around the Wellington region over Queen’s Birthday weekend, including six in the Porirua region – at Tony’s Tire Service, Porirua Gospel Chapel, St Alban’s church in Pauatahanui, a house near Kenepuru hospital, a portaloo in Tawa, and Horouta marae.
The fires cost the Fire Service more than $700,000, as 194 firefighters had to be dispatched in 46 trucks to deal with the flames.
Vulnerable buildings were targeted, says Porirua fire safety officer Russell Postlewaight.
‘‘[They] were soft targets. They’re buildings that in weekends are not occupied. They don’t have extensive security systems.’’
The marae fire was started at 9.30pm on June 5. It started in a child’s pram, where vinyl shoes and rubbish were doused with fuel. Despite an adjoining flat being occupied, it fell to a neighbour across the street, Ben Sutton, to put out the fire.
Horouta marae elder Bill Tangohau had felt Maraeroa was not a target because it is always busy at night with meetings and funerals. The fire made him realise how vulnerable the wooden wharekai is. ‘‘It wouldn’t take much to get this place going.’’ He’s putting a fire safety plan in place, as he believes the marae will be targeted again.
‘‘This isn’t the finish of it.’’
Near miss: Horouta marae elder Bill Tangohau inspects the remains of a fire lit under a room full of gas cylinders.