House fire ‘like being punched in the guts’
Family photos containing more than half a century of memories were lost when a Ha¯wera home went up in flames in the early hours of yesterday.
Emergency services said more than 70 per cent of the Wilson St house was destroyed in the blaze, which was reported about 3.45am.
The house’s owner, Nancy O’Donnell, 88, had recently moved from the property, where she and her late husband had lived for more than 50 years, into a rest home and the building was unoccupied.
Her children, Brian and Michelle O’Donnell, had planned to spend today sorting and packing up her possessions but arrived to find the house had been extensively damaged in the blaze.
‘‘I’m so glad Mum was in the rest home. She would have never got out alive,’’ Michelle said.
‘‘Police rang us at five this morning.
‘‘It’s hard to comprehend, really.’’
Firefighters spent more than three hours at the address.
A police guard remained after the final firefighters left, about 7am, and fire safety officers and detectives were examining the scene to determine what had caused the house to erupt in flames.
Ha¯wera fire brigade station officer Michael Palmer confirmed about 70 per cent of the house had been damaged.
‘‘The front room was fully involved with flames coming out of the roof,’’ Palmer said.
‘‘The fire had got a good hold by the time we got there.’’
Initially two engines from
Ha¯ wera attended.
However, the fire was quickly escalated to a second alarm with extra resources being called in from Eltham, Manaia and O¯ kaiawa to help extinguish the flames.
Palmer said at the height of the blaze about 25 firefighters, five fire engines, support vehicles and staff and two water tankers were at the scene.
A combination of an external and internal attack was used to extinguish the flames, Palmer said, with four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entering the burning building.
‘‘It was a very good save of 30 per cent of the house at that time of the morning.’’
Senior Sergeant Kyle Davie said the investigation would establish if there was anything suspicious about the fire that would require further investigation.
‘‘Fire safety officers will lead the examination with CIB detectives working along side them,’’ Davie said.
‘‘That will then determine if there’s anything suspicious about the fire, where it started and if there was any accelerant used.’’
Michelle O’Donnell, who lives in Wellington, had flown up to Taranaki on Thursday to help clear out the house with Brian, who lives in New Plymouth, and other family, so it could be sold.
‘‘It was always going to be a mixture of emotion as we sorted through all the photos and stuff but now it’s all gone,’’ she said. ‘‘It feels like being punched in the guts.’’
Brian O’Donnell said the house had been their family home.
‘‘Mum and Dad built this house 53 years ago.
‘‘We’re not sure what happened yet but luckily no-one was living here at the time. It’s been pretty intense.’’
A neighbour, who did not give her name, said she was woken in the early hours of the morning and asked to leave her home by emergency staff.
‘‘I’m so glad Mum was in the rest home. She would have never got out alive,’’ Michelle O’Donnell, daughter of the house’s owner.
More than 70 per cent of the house was destroyed in yesterday’s fire.