This is the third Rarotonga business which has been burned to the ground in a month. The other two businesses destroyed by fire were Friendly Mart and Tex Mart in Arorangi on June 14 and June 22, respectively.
The initial cost of the damage from Sunday night’s fire is still unknown, but it is understood the loss is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
Raromart Megastore owner Don Carlaw was out of the country yesterday and store general manager Eric Sijp said they were waiting for insurance investigators to evaluate the total damage sustained in the fire.
“All I can say at the moment is that the building is a total write-off,” Sijp said.
Rescue Fire Service chief officer Willie Hagai said, they received a call alerting them of the fire at around 12.20am.
He said seven trucks from the Rescue Fire, Teimurimotia and Puaikura fire stations as well as the island’s two major foam tenders were deployed to bring the fire under control.
About 20 firefighters were at the scene, battling the blaze until 3.30am when they were able to bring the fire under control. The firefighters stayed at the scene until about 8.30am yesterday.
Hagai said the building was completely engulfed in flames when they arrived to the scene.
He described it as one of the biggest blazes fire services experienced on Rarotonga.
“The fire was really intense. We had to request the two foam tenders because we needed a bulk (amount) of water to bring the fire under control. These tenders are used for aircraft firefighting and they deliver water cannons which were needed for a big fire like the one at Raromart,” Hagai said.
“The biggest challenge for the firefighters was the wind, which was actually towards the two (adjacent) buildings. The firefighters had to stand in the smoke to fight the blaze.”
Tatari Mitchell, who lives nearby Raromart Megastore, said they feared that the fire would spread to the surrounding buildings, including their house.
She said they had to move their children to their cousin’s place while the elders stayed home, ready with hoses to douse the flames coming from the fire-engulfed building.
“The firefighters worked really hard to contain the fire and avoid it from spreading to the surrounding buildings,” Mitchell said.
She said they were now wary of the toxic smell coming from the destroyed building and hoping for the wind direction to change to provide them with some relief.
Meanwhile Hagai said two local investigators were carrying out interviews with the witnesses and the owner of the building to establish further details about the fire.
“Anybody with any information in regards to this fire or they have seen anyone acting suspiciously around the area, please contact the police.”
Cook Islands Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said the Criminal Investigation Bureau team was on site early yesterday morning, conducting preliminary investigations and interviewing people, including the occupants of nearby houses, and the store manager.
He said the road across the charred building remained closed yesterday due to the fire hoses required for pumping water to the site, which has been smouldering throughout the day.
“The concern is to ensure complete safety so that investigative work can get underway within the premises.”