Smoke alarm helps family escape fire

By Nicki Harper

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From left: Herani Clair, 11, holding a family photo album that survived the blaze, Waipawa fire brigade senior firefighter Alison Ludlow, Rhythm Houkamau, 4, Lisa Clair, Waipawa fire brigade chief fire officer Brian Edwards, Ariarnah Houkamau, 3, Thomas Houkamau and Waipawa senior station officer Gwyn Burton at the Shanley St house that was gutted by fire recently. Photo / Nicki Harper
From left: Herani Clair, 11, holding a family photo album that survived the blaze, Waipawa fire brigade senior firefighter Alison Ludlow, Rhythm Houkamau, 4, Lisa Clair, Waipawa fire brigade chief fire officer Brian Edwards, Ariarnah Houkamau, 3, Thomas Houkamau and Waipawa senior station officer Gwyn Burton at the Shanley St house that was gutted by fire recently. Photo / Nicki Harper

A Waipawa family was lucky to come through relatively unscathed after a house fire that almost completely destroyed their Shanley St home on Friday, March 4.

On Tuesday this week, occupant Thomas Junior Houkamau's arms were still bandaged up from burns he received trying to put the fire out, after spotting flames at about 9pm in a room being used for storage and a sleepout.

A smoke alarm that had been recently installed through the Safer Homes CHB project also did its job to alert Thomas, who said he was sitting outside at the back after dinner when he saw light coming from the room at the front of the house.

"I took a closer look and opened the door to see the top mattress on a bunk was burning. I started trying to put it out with my hands and then I saw a towel and was throwing that at it.

"I heard glass popping and breaking in the other rooms - the heat was wicked, and once the windows went it really started roaring."

Meanwhile the rest of the family, his partner Lisa Clair and their four children, had made their way across the road and the Fire Service arrived shortly afterwards.

Waipawa brigade senior firefighter Alison Ludlow said two crews each from Waipawa, Otane, and Waipukurau, as well as a command vehicle from Hastings, attended and took about two hours to completely extinguish the blaze.

"We had six teams in BAs (breathing apparatus) going in and coming out in 30-minute shifts."

Thomas said he was amazed at how quickly the fire spread, taking only about three minutes to get into the ceiling and engulf the next door kitchen area. Just over half of the interior of the house ended up being totally burnt out, with the remaining area seriously smoke damaged, the building now unliveable.

It was thought the fire started from an overloaded multi-board in the storage room.

Waipawa chief fire officer Brian Edwards said the Safer Homes CHB project, which aims to have smoke alarms installed in every house in CHB, was paying off with this being the third fire in a house where smoke detectors had been put in by the Fire Service, had helped save lives.

He praised the family for getting out of the house and Mr Houkamau for backing off when he saw it was too big to deal with.

It was also a timely reminder to check that smoke alarms were working, and with winter approaching to check fire boxes and get chimneys cleaned.

"It also shows the importance of not overloading multi-boards and if they are getting old and you have doubts get them replaced with a good quality product with a circuit breaker."

He also noted that was a reminder to make sure families had an evacuation plan in the event of fire, with a designated safe place outside the house to head to.

Mr Houkamau and Ms Clair said the community had been very supportive and they had been flooded with replacement household items, and had been offered accommodation around the corner.

"We want to thank everyone for their overwhelming generosity with donations and support - we have been very spoilt," they said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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