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.

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