February 15, 2009
Investigators will today get a clearer picture of how fires which destroyed buildings and machinery on Mt Ruapehu overnight on Friday were started.
Millions of dollars worth of damage was caused by the blazes high on Whakapapa skifield which destroyed the Knoll Ridge Chalet and a shed 200m away housing three $500,000 snow groomers.
Both fires erupted soon after midnight.
Police have said they had 'significant suspicions' about the fire, and others said it appeared arson was the cause.
Scene examinations were expected to continue until tomorrow and police were today expected to speak to people who were in the area on Friday afternoon and check whether lodges on the mountain were occupied on Friday night.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts general manager Dave Mazey said the chalet, housing a cafe, toilet facilities, shops and other services for skiers, was totally destroyed.
He said it would be almost impossible for the fire to have spread from one building to the other because they were so far apart.
Access to the destroyed buildings was by chairlift only and firefighters alerted by someone who saw the fire on the mountain could not get to the blaze.
A helicopter with a monsoon bucket eventually dumped water on the buildings, which were still burning several hours after starting.
The terminal building of the Waterfall Express chairlift, about 10 metres from the destroyed chalet building, was also damaged by the fire but Mr Mazey said he was confident the chairlift mechanism would not be affected and the chair would be operating when the season opened.
He said discussions would take place with insurers over reparations, but estimated construction costs at such an altitude would be over $3000-4000 a square metre.
'The only access is by helicopter for building materials, supplies and construction equipment,' Mr Mazey said.
He said a temporary shelter building may be erected for the ski season.