Several fire crews from Masterton and Carterton attended Sunday night’s fire. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

Acts of vandalism and petty arson in the vacant buildings of the old Masterton hospital pose a “significant” risk, firefighters said, after a small fire in a building on Sunday night.

Firefighters and police responded to the fire on Selina Sutherland Drive around 7.20pm, after an alert from an automatic smoke detection system.

Crew entered through the old community annexe and found smoke starting to accumulate before moving to the source of the fire in the old cafeteria area where stored books and papers had been set alight.

Firefighters spent an hour working to ventilate the building.

Though the fire was quickly extinguished, it could have been much worse, Masterton Fire Brigade Station Officer Mike Cornford said.

“There was an early detection in place. If it hadn’t been there it would have been a more significant fire.”

The building is frequented by squatters and often subject to vandalism, though this was the first time Cornford said he had responded to a fire in the building.

He said that increased the risks for firefighters and created more hazards.

“It’s an ongoing risk.

“If people are living there at times that puts emphasis on us to try and make sure the building is empty.”

Cornford said the derelict hospital buildings were one of the most significant building risks in Masterton faced by the Masterton Fire Brigade.

Addressing the risk the buildings pose has been slow, as the land they are situated on is part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement claim on behalf of Ngati Kahungunu before the Tribunal.

Chairman of Masterton Medical, Bob Francis, said it had been an ongoing concern to the neighbouring clinic.

“There have been ongoing vandalism and break-ins.”

He said there were talks about demolishing the building to remove the hazard.

The buildings were under the control of Land Information New Zealand.

The fire was being treated as suspicious, but an investigation was not expected.