A fire that broke out at Waimea College on Saturday has prompted talk of a serial arsonist after a spate of similar foliage fires were reported over the last month.

The alarm was raised at 5.07pm by scaffolders working on site at the time. Flames were seen reaching over 20ft as the blaze took hold of pine trees and undergrowth by one of the college buildings.

Caretaker for Waimea College, Richard Powley, rushed to the scene and helped the scaffolders try to prevent the fire spreading. “I heard a lot of commotion so came out and was confronted by the fire and several tradies trying to put it out. I ran inside to get some fire extinguishers which helped dampen the undergrowth, but the flames were going up higher than the roof, so we were all relieved to hear the fire truck siren in the distance.”

Craig Clayworth, Senior Station Officer for the Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade, says, “Fires like this tend to spread quickly, especially at this time of year when things are dry, so it was lucky the alarm was raised swiftly.” The fire crew managed to get the blaze under control by climbing on top of the college roof and tackling the inferno from above. “We are appealing to the local community to keep their eyes open and report anything suspicious or pass on anything which may help the police enquiry,” says Craig.

Detective Nick Parlane of Nelson Police says, “We are treating the fire as suspicious. There have been five other foliage fires in the area recently. Kids talk to other kids, who then talk to parents, so please, pass on any information regarding those responsible.”

There were three fence and hedge fires on nearby Templemore Drive between 20 and 30 December, one on Hill Street on 11 December, and another on Heron Grove on 30 December. Enquiries are ongoing, but it’s possible the fire at Waimea College is linked.

“I’ve been here for 37 years,” says Richard, “and the trees have always been there. Now we’ll have to dig them out and start again.”

Call 105 if you have any info about these fires or see anyone acting suspiciously or lighting fires.

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