Cheese toasted in coolstore fire withdrawn from auction

By Edward Gay

A toasted round of cheese, put up for auction to raise money for the fire service, has been withdrawn from an auction website on the grounds of good taste.

Alf Steel wanted to give money to the fire service who he said saved his Tamahere home after the neighbouring Icepak coolstore exploded on Saturday, destroying his fence, breaking windows and blistering the paint on his house.

"I'm not a rich man but if I was a rich man, I'd write a fat cheque for the fire service," Mr Steel said.

He said he found the charred cheese and got permission from insurance assessors visiting the Waikato site to auction it to raise money for the fire service.

But Icepak Group owner Jan Van Eden said no-one had asked his permission to remove the cheese and the action was "totally unacceptable, illegal, totally immoral".

Fire Service spokesman Scott Sargentina said it was an insult to the families of the dead and injured firefighters.

Auction website Trade Me spokesman Mike O'Donnell said the Fire Service head office had requested the item be withdrawn from the site.

After discussions with the seller, it was agreed to remove it last night, he said.

But Mr Steel said he never intended to offend anyone following the death of firefighter Derek Lovell in the fire.

"I've already written a letter to the chief fire officer thanking him for saving our house and expressing our condolences for the death of Mr Lovell," Mr Steel said.

He said he didn't ring Mr Van Eden because he doubts he would have got him on the phone.

Mr Steel said the round of cheese is in his freezer and he will be putting it back soon.

The 79-year-old Tamahere resident was dealing with insurance assessors himself today.

Mr Steel was in his office on Saturday when he heard the first explosion.

"The noise was indescribable, the whole house shook and at first I started to think it could have been a plane that had crashed," he said.

Mr Steel came out into his kitchen and noticed broken glass everywhere from one of the windows.

"We [Mr Steel and his wife, Eunice] started picking it up. I didn't know what could have caused it and then there was another loud bang, which really shook the house.

"That was when I started thinking, 'Hell's bell'."

The retired carpenter looked across and noticed smoke coming from one of the cold storage buildings.

Within minutes friends from down the street were at the Steel home telling the elderly couple to run for their lives.

"I didn't even have time to get my medication; we left without grabbing a thing. We saw the flames and thought we were never going to have a house again."

The blasts, which claimed the life of firefighter Derek Lovell, shattered windows in the Steels' house and scattered glass throughout the living room and kitchen.

The intense heat, which a senior firefighter told the Herald was probably about 1000C at the time of the blast, blistered the paint on the back of the house and turned most of their two-metre-high fence into ash.

Looking out from his living room at the twisted and smouldering remains of the cold store, Mr Steel said he was thankful Icepak built the wooden fence a couple of years back.

"I was on their case about it for a while," he said.

"I think the fence probably took most of the blast and if it wasn't there, things could have been worse. We were at the school, which [is] about 100 metres away, and it was still too hot to stand there."

After spending an anxious night at their daughter's home in Hamilton, the couple returned to Tamahere to find their house still intact.

And yesterday, glaziers were there fitting new windows.

"We honestly thought we would have to get a new home," said Mr Steel.

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