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Mitre 10 blaze may have been arson

Published: 7:22AM Thursday December 11, 2008 Source: ONE News

Police have launched an arson investigation into the huge fire at an Auckland Mitre 10 store.

There was early speculation that the fire was caused by an electrical fault but now the fire service believes the blaze in Onehunga could have been deliberately started.

The fire on Monday evening destroyed Mitre 10's camping and outdoor store. Investigators believe the blaze started in a storage rack of outdoor umbrellas and may have been deliberately lit.

"Our investigators were able to interview staff in the store at the time, so they have a picture of what was happening in the store leading upto the time of the fire," Chief Fire Officer Larry Cocker says.

The flames quickly spread, feasting on gas bottles, barbeques and camping equipment that was in the store.

Although the fire is suspicious, the cause is undetermined and the case has now been handed over to the police.

But with the building completely destroyed and the asbestos still posing a health hazard, police do not believe anything in the store survived the fire, including the security cameras that could have helped with their investigation.

Health authorities are assuring the public that all precautions are being taken to ensure asbestos is cleaned up from the store.

Medical officer of health Denise Barnfather says the Fire Service has cleared all the asbestos pieces of building material from the road.

Remaining materials are being kept watered down by contractors on the site and there is netting in place to prevent any asbestos drying out, as it can be inhaled in dust form.

For its part, Mitre 10 is confident it won't be blamed for the fire.

Chief executive Craig Wilson says the company is uncompromising when it comes to store safety and all stores meet the warrant of fitness requirements for commercial buildings. He says he is 100% confident that the building was fully compliant.

Wilson says a company like Mitre 10 can't afford to be complacent, given so many of the products it sells are flammable.

The owner of the building, David Grove, was driving when he saw the huge billowing smoke cloud and he did not know it was his building on fire.

"When you know it's your building it gives you a hell of a fright,' says Grove.

Grove says he is disappointed that someone could have deliberately lit the store that has been in his family for three decades.

And the fact that the arson came so close to Christmas hurts.

"It's disappointing that it's happened at this time and as I'm talking now they beavering away ... assembling new barbeques, assembling outdoor furniture," says Grove.

It will be business as usual at a makeshift store by the weekend, with police tasked with the job of finding out just what or who caused the inferno.