Rebounding after arsons
Six months later, Porirua businesses and organisations are still counting the cost of a string of arsons at Queen’s Birthday weekend.
A 43-year-old Porirua man was initially charged with 13 counts of arson committed throughout the Wellington region within 48 hours, and has since been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the Wellington District Court. He is due to appear again before Christmas to decide what action will be taken to ensure he receives treatment and is not a danger to the community.
It is likely that the man, who has name suppression, will be committed to a secure psychiatric institution, his lawyer Paul Surridge says.
From about 6.30pm on Saturday, June 4, the Porirua Tony’s Tyre Service workshop, Horouta Marae in Aotea, St Alban’s Church in Pautahanui, Porirua Gospel Chapel in Cannons Creek, two portaloos in Tawa and a house near Kenepuru Hospital were attacked, and another five fires were set throughout the wider Wellington region.
Almost 200 firefighters fought the blazes, with 46 trucks dispatched. The Fire Service has since estimated that the response cost about $ 700,000, as it scrambled units and a command centre from throughout the wider region to cover the arsonist’s trail.
Mr Surridge believes the offender is aware of the damage he caused.
‘‘I think he does [know], and he’s ashamed,’’ he says.
Tony’s Tyre Service national sales manager Scott Higgins says there’s no point dwelling on that night, and it was just bad luck that the store was targeted.
The first fire was lit in scrap tyres at the rear of the store. Luckily, the flames were spotted by a passing policewoman, and firefighters arrived before the blaze was able to engulf the entire building.
Even then, flames from the back of the store towered several storeys above the roof and were spotted by Mr Higgins’ parents, who live across the harbour.
The staff pulled together and the store reopened a week later, minus a new wheel alignment machine and a good deal of the puncture repair tools, and with a gaping black hole in the back of the workshop.
Between a week of lost business, six weeks without a wheel alignment machine, reduced work space and about $40,000 worth of lost stock, Tony’s general manager Health Barclay estimates that the fire cost about $100,000.
But what is more difficult to put a dollar value on is the blow to staff morale while working in a smoky, leaking and cramped space, time lost on organising insurance, council resource consents and quotes, and the unknown fallout from customers who have formed new relationships elsewhere.
Early this month, builders put the finishing touches to the rebuilt workshop, which has been a huge boost for staff, and the store is working under full steam ready for the pre-christmas rush.
‘‘Christmas is a really big, busy period for us, so at least we are not going to suffer much longer,’’ Mr Barclay says.
Many of the fires were spotted and stopped before they could take hold, including at St Alban’s Church, which suffered only minor damage before a sprinkler system was triggered.
A fire lit in a child’s pram under an overhanging section of the wharekai at Horouta could easily have been much worse if it was not seen by a neighbour. The fire was lit near a stack of gas cylinders.
Porirua Gospel Chapel was also saved by neighbours seeing the flames. Church elder Brian Mcgettigan says when new curtains are hung it will complete $70,000 of repairs, which included work on a storage cupboard and an outside wall, replacing a large ranchslider, and new carpet.
Last month the church held a special Sunday service to dedicate the repaired room, and invited neighbours, firefighters and other people affected by the fire.
‘‘Quite a few people came to hear about it, and to share some lunch. They were so pleased with what had been done; a part of it we have actually improved,’’ Mr Mcgettigan says.
Members of the congregation were left devastated, and have questions about why the church was targeted, he says.
As far as they know, the man has no connection to the church.
‘‘We understand he was part of the community here, and we have talked about trying to see the guy to talk to him and reconcile.
‘‘We want to tell him that even though we are not happy with what he did, that we won’t hold that against him,’’ Mr Mcgettigan says.
From the ashes: Tony’s Tyre Service is still adding up the costs of an arson at its central Porirua store in early June, but Wellington area manager Mark Eades, left, and national sales manager Scott Higgins say final repairs have just been finished, and the store is hoping for a Christmas rush to make up lost ground. Burnout: The aftermath of the Queen’s Birthday arson at Tony’s Tyre Service in Porirua.