An Auckland high school has been closed today after a block of classrooms was extensively damaged in an early morning blaze.
Long Bay College’s art and technology block is in total ruins, with corrugated iron roofing caving in to what remains of the building. Windows are blown out, the contents of the building are in ashes and the smell of smoke fills the air.
Takapuna Fire Station senior officer Steven Callagher said they could see the fire from East Coast Rd as they made their way to the school in the early hours.
“The flames were really high and there was a lot of heat. Heat usually rises but even the grass caught fire.
“There is significant damage, total destruction inside the block that caught fire.”
It took 14 crews and about 60 firefighters almost two hours to battle what Callagher described as a “significant fire”.
Station officer Allen Barr confirmed the building contained asbestos meaning “a whole new procedure of protection has to take place for anyone entering that area.” This could affect investgators who will arrive to determine the cause of the fire later today.
Some teachers gathered near the cordon this morning with a total look of shock on their faces.
School principal Russel Brooke stood outside the destroyed building as fire crews continued to dampen the area.
It’s the latest tragedy to strike the college after pupils and staff began the year on a heartbreaking note with the loss of three lives in the school community.
“The last time I received an early morning call was the tragedy of our international student who was killed and I don’t like it when the phone rings early in the morning. It’s getting a bit hard,” said Brooke.
“People have had a rough ride over the last month. They are shocked and tired,” said Brooke.
“We need good news. We need something to look forward to.”
Year 13 student Byron Buys said he has had classes in the block for the past four years.
The 18-year-old said students had just about finished a big woodwork project, which had now been totally destroyed.
“I was brought up in that block. A lot of memories were built in there. It’s scary to see how quickly it can disappear.
“You can’t get any of that back. It will knock everyone around, especially given everything that has happened this year.”
Byron’s family live beside the school, about 300m from the building that went up in smoke.
His dad Philip Buys said they were woken up by the neighbour’s dog barking.
“Everybody woke everyone up. It was truly blazing and the heat was incredible. The flames were higher than the classroom.
“You could hear the fire roaring and the odd mini explosion. It was quite a noise.”
Buys said he could feel the heat from his home and was relieved the fire didn’t spread to any houses.
The Fire Service’s assistant area commander John Booth said the school was well alight when firefighters arrived.
He described it as an “intense fire” that required crews from across Auckland to fight the blaze.
The school has been closed for the day.
Brooke said the large 70s block was home to fashion rooms, the commercial kitchen, engineering workshops and design rooms containing lots expensive equipment.
The worst of the damage appeared to be above the woodwork room.
“The centre of that now is all fire damaged. There’s massive amounts of water in there, smoke everywhere and once things quieten down we can get in there and have a look at what we’ve got and what we’re dealing with on Monday and over the weekend.”
He called for all students to stay away while investigations were under way and staff dealt with the loss.
About 50 firefighters remain at the school dampening down hot spots.
Trucks with high ladders are monitoring the ruins for flare-ups.
Torbay resident and Mark Baldwin said at its height the fire was so fierce the crackling sound of the burning block could be heard across the valley.
“I looked out over the valley and you could see a huge plume of smoke and flames lighting up the skyline so it was obviously an extremely large fire. You could actually hear the crackling.
“From the top of Glenvar Rd you could see massive flames coming out of the school.”
He said residents filled the streets in the early hours shocked by the unfolding destruction.
Long Bay principal Russell Brooke earlier described the grim start to the year as a “tough time” as the school faced a triple tragedy.
International student Peyo Crus, former student Rachael de Jong and former long-time visual arts teacher Kim Gray have died since the start of the year.
Crus was killed in a car crash, De Jong was swept to her death when floodgates opened on the Waikato River on Waitangi Day, and Gray succumbed to breast cancer.
Carissa Avison, 21, who disappeared on January 26 and whose body was found in Woodhill Forest last week also attended the school for a short time.
Parents have posted on Facebook their children are distraught after their work was destroyed in the blaze.
Some senior technology students were due to have internal assessments on Monday.
Fire Service northern shift manager Scott Osmond said about 40 firefighters fought the blaze.
He said a number of people raised the alarm.
Fire safety officers were now at the school to determine the cause of the blaze.