Masterton police are searching for three college boys who tried to burn down the historic Solway Showgrounds grandstand by igniting home-made petrol bombs. Only the quick actions of a passer-by saved the majestic and newly-renovated grandstand from possible destruction, although a state-of-art sprinkler system is installed.
The person who raised the alarm reported seeing flames coming from the front of the grandstand and police were quickly on the scene, bringing tracker dogs to help find the culprits.
So far the boys responsible have not been found.
Masterton A &P Association executive director Ally O’Neill said the Wednesday molotov cocktail attack by the boys had to be taken very seriously.
“It’s more than vandalism, it’s a despicable act.”
Mr O’Neill said the old grandstand is regarded as a real showpiece.
The petrol bombs had burst into flames at the base of the old stand near the stairs, leaving charring on the building’s concrete base.
Mr O’Neill said police told him the boys were aged from 13 to 15 and were college pupils.
He said even when they were caught it was likely there was not much police could do because of their ages.
“If they are 13 and 14 years old, like these kids that have been racing around town in cars, then they won’t be able to do a bloody thing,” Mr O’Neill said.
Many buildings at the showground have periodically been the target of vandals but this incident had the potential to destroy entire structures.
“I don’t know how you stop it. We’ve got some ideas but we’re not going to say what they are right here.”
Solway Showgrounds is owned by the Masterton A & P Association and more than $750,000 has been spent over the past four years renovating buildings and improving the grounds.
Undisclosed security measures were tightened up a few months back after a prolonged spate of vandalism.
“For years people have taken it as a right that they can come through here,” Mr O’Neill sid.
“People need to realise that it is private property and it’s not their right to go on the property without our permission.”
He said the option of employing a security guard to monitor the grounds had been considered, but the size of the area meant it would be difficult to be everywhere at once.
“We might have to look at overnight security. It’s such a big property, a huge area so difficult to cover.”
“We don’t want to rark anyone up here, but we are looking for a bit of community support because we have really developed the place over the last four years.
“Although it is privately owned it is really a community asset.”
Mr O’Neill said the grandstand was one of the most significant historic buildings in Wairarapa.
“You see it as you drive past and think, ‘jeez, that’s a magnificent building’.”
The grandstand was built in 1911 and is one of eight structures on the showgrounds that is part of the historic places precinct.
Masterton fire safety officer Henry Stechman said although he thought the sprinkler system would have at least contained a blaze caused by the petrol bombs and saved a lot of damage there were exceptions to that rule of thumb.
Sprinklers, he said, were designed to save the inside of buildings and incendiary devices used against outside walls could still be very destructive.