Nearby blaze leaves grieving mother distraught

By Mike Dinsdale

Karen Edwards has her late daughter's possessions packed up and ready to go in case she needs to evacuate her isolated Hokianga home in an emergency.

On Tuesday, Mrs Edwards had an agonising two-hour wait wondering if she would get home to get the precious belongings after a suspected firebug started a blaze near her Horeke home.

She is urging people to think about the consequences of their actions as tinder-dry conditions have forced a total fire ban across Northland.

Ashlee Edwards, a 21-year-old mother of two, was found dead at the Tarewa Rd bridge, in Whangarei, early on July 27. Her former partner, Jimmy Akuhata, 29, has been charged with murder.

Karen Edwards said she was almost hysterical on Tuesday as she realised the fire - which was still being dampened down yesterday after scorching more than 15 hectares of scrub and bush and is being treated as suspicious - was close to the boundary of her beef and sheep farm.

After a fire in Whitecliffs Forest at Horeke threatened the home in 2011, she kept all of Ashlee's possessions in a "memory box", a suitcase she could grab if she had to get out in a hurry.

On Tuesday, she was at work in Kaikohe when she heard the fire station's alarm sound.

"I thought, 'I hope that's not near us again,' after the Whitecliffs fire. As I was driving home along the Rangiahua Straights on State Highway 1, I could see the smoke and thought 'oh my gosh, that's near our place' again," she said.

"I got to our road, but was stopped by police at a cordon saying I couldn't go any further. I was almost hysterical by that stage as I couldn't get back home. I was there two hours not knowing if Ashlee's memory box was safe or even if I had a home to go back to."

When she finally got home, it was reeking of smoke after flames reached the property's boundary.

Mrs Edwards said not much could be done to protect an isolated home from fire, but she always had a hose ready and the farm's water tanks were filled, just in case.

"Ashlee and I lived in Australia for 18 months and there were some bad fires so we know about the risk, that's why I had her things ready to go," she said.

A total ban on outdoor fires throughout the North was implemented last month with virtually no rain falling on the region since the start of the year. But despite extensive publicity about the situation and accompanying ban, people were still lighting fires.

- Northern Advocate

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