Family in lucky fire escape

By Imran Ali, Peter Jackson

A Far North family of four is lucky to be alive after fleeing a burning house in the middle of the night.

The fire, near State Highway 12 in Omapere, about 60km south-west of Kaikohe, was one of two over the past two days.

The Omapere fire is believed to have started from a fireplace and spread quickly through the ceiling cavity.

With winter approaching, the Fire Service has warned people to put hot ashes from their fireplaces in steel tins and to ensure chimneys in their houses are clean.

The fire was well involved by the time firefighters from Omapere, Rawene and Kaikohe arrived about 1am on Sunday. A vehicle parked next to the house was also extensively damaged.

Fire investigator Gary Beer said two adults and their two children were very lucky to escape because the fire had got hold of their rented property when they ran for cover.

"Wood was used in the fireplace and it appears the fire went through the cracks.

We think there was a smoke alarm but we're not sure whether it was working," he said.

The male occupant woke up after feeling the flames and alerted other family members who were sleeping in another bedroom.

Mr Beer said homeowners and tenants needed to take heed of safety messages as increased power consumption and the use of fireplaces became common throughout winter.

"Hot ashes should be put in steel containers and not outside against the house and leave the ash for at least three days," he said.

"It's also a good time to test electric blankets and to check smoke alarms. If you're using heaters, plug it on a wall socket on its own to avoid overloading."

Yesterday, in Donald Rd, Kaitaia, reinforcements had to be called to fight a fire where damage was largely restricted to the space between the roof and ceiling, although the interior of the home also suffered water damage.

The home's occupant, Nikki Mellsop, who with husband Phil leads the Salvation Army in Kaitaia, said the first sign of the fire was the smell of smoke.

The telephone was dead and with smoke pouring from the roof of the rented house she knew the situation was serious.

The Kaitaia Fire Brigade did not find the fire an easy one to fight either.

The pump on the first appliance malfunctioned, meaning a second unit and crew had to be summoned, but with the nearest hydrant a considerable distance further up the hill, the water supply didn't long last long enough to finish the job. A third appliance was called from the Kaitaia station, while the Mangonui brigade dispatched reinforcements.

With the ceiling trapdoor at the far end of the house, firefighters had to lift sections of the tin roof to get at the blaze.

- Northern Advocate

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