Whānau devastated after marae goes up in flames

By Jessica Tyson
Family spokesperson Gabriel Tupou. Source: File

The whānau and community at Tapu Te Ranga Marae are devastated after a building at the marae went up in flames early this morning.

The marae has served as a place where unemployed and homeless young Māori can learn life skills and reconnect with their culture. It was built by people from the local community, led by the late Bruce Stewart who died in 2017.

Family spokesperson Gabriel Tupou says, “The whānau are devastated at what has happened. It’s really our Tūrangawaewae. It’s a place where not only we as the whānau stand but also the hundreds and thousands of people who have come through.”

Fire and emergency say a multi-story building, of 30 by 50m in size, in the marae complex was completely destroyed and a number of other marae buildings were damaged.

“In terms of taonga, we’ve lost some personal family items, photos of our tūpuna and valuable artworks,” says Tupou.

Despite the ruins, the whānau are staying positive.

“The whānau are the heart of the marae, so even though some of the structure is no longer there, the people are still here and we are still willing, and together with the community we can rebuild the marae,” she says.

Tupou says members of the community have already offered koha to help with the rebuild.

Photo source: Fire and Emergency.

Māori Warden Hamuera Orupe McLeod was one of many who helped to keep people safe during the blaze.

“I arrived, it was glowing. It was still in flames, but they managed to put about 80 per cent of it out. But still enough flames to give you a fright, and the whole hill lit up with light from the fire.”

Even though he hadn’t had any sleep throughout the night, he was still willing to help at the fire.

“Uncle Bruce has a very powerful connection with Ngāi Tūhoe and that’s where I’m from. And I didn’t even bat an eyelid as soon as I got the phone call. Got over here as fast as I could," he says.

“You put your Māori warden suit on, time doesn’t play a part in it. You just get to where you’ve got to go.”