From the outside the Waiharara School house didn't look too badly damaged after fire ripped through it on Friday afternoon, but it was a different story inside.
Kaitaia Fire Brigade Station Officer Craig Rogers said the lounge and kitchen bore the brunt of the fire, the latter having no structural support left by the time the blaze had been extinguished.
Crews from Houhora and Kaitaia fought the fire, but the flames had taken hold in the ceiling by the time they arrived, and the damage was always going to be extensive.
The cause is still under investigation but it is suspected as having started in the lounge or kitchen, possibly as the result of a failed multiboard. The stove had all but been ruled out as the starting point, Mr Rogers said.
Under the circumstances, he added, the crews had done an exceptional job. Smoke had been pouring out from under the eaves from one side the house to the other by the time the first appliance arrived, he said, and there had never been any real prospect of saving it from destruction.
The house is owned (and insured) by the school but is currently tenanted. The occupants were not home at the time.
Meanwhile, the one problem firefighters did not have was finding water - the school pool provided 25,000 litres before the job was declared done.