House fire ‘like be­ing punched in the guts’

Taranaki Daily News - - News - Leighton Keith and Kris Boult

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.

KRIS BOULT/STUFF

More than 70 per cent of the house was de­stroyed in yes­ter­day’s fire.

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