Man charged after blaze guts home

By Nathan Crombie at the Wairarapa Times-Age -
The semi-detached house in William Kemp Place was left gutted after the fire. Photo / APN
The semi-detached house in William Kemp Place was left gutted after the fire. Photo / APN

A retired teacher was forced to flee her home of 30 years as a blaze took hold of an adjoining flat.

The 60-year-old Masterton woman burst into tears while talking about yesterday morning's fire, which police and fire investigators say was intentionally lit.

A Masterton man, 22, appeared in Masterton District Court yesterday facing a charge of intentionally damaging the William Kemp Place property by fire knowing that life was likely to be endangered.

The woman, who declined to be named, said she was woken by an explosion and the sound of breaking glass and timber about 2am.

The mother of two adult children raced to her front porch, and was stunned to discover "flames shooting straight out from the windows" only metres from her door.

"Fire was just shooting out. I probably did the wrong thing but I turned back around and went back inside and called the fire brigade," she said.

The woman also rescued her 8-year-old cat Boots, a cherished family photograph and some clothes. She was met at her front door by a neighbour who helped her escape the property unharmed.

"He was the hero of the piece actually. He helped me out of the house and we were at his place by the time the three fire engines arrived."

The woman said she had been renting the property for about 30 years, initially as a state house tenant before Trust House bought the home.

Andrew Whitehouse, Trust House housing operations manager, said the woman had yesterday toured three other properties and Trust House had moved her furniture and belongings to a new house.

The blaze had gutted half of the duplex but a full fire wall protected the woman's side of the property, where there was only minor smoke damage and some damage caused while firefighters battled the blaze.

A decision has yet to be made regarding the rebuilding or demolition of the property.

Both properties were fitted with fire alarms and fire extinguishers.

The woman said she was "staying positive" about the forced move just ahead of Christmas.

Mike Wanoa, fire communication shift supervisor, said the fire had started in a bedroom and the house was fully ablaze when the three fire crews arrived at the scene. There were no injuries reported and the ambulance service did not attend.

Russell Postlewaight, New Zealand Fire Service fire investigator, said he and police were investigating "a fire that most likely appears to have been deliberately lit".

"There was severe damage caused to the property and the tiled roof caved in and presented considerable danger to firefighters. It was a dangerous and very hot and fast-growing fire."

Mr Postlewaight said the fire wall had kept the fire from spreading into the neighbouring apartment where the retired teacher had been sleeping.

It is understood the man charged in relation to the blaze is a relative of the tenant, who neighbours said had not been at home for several days.

A male pitbull dog that was chained at the rear of the property has been taken to the Wairarapa SPCA in Masterton.

Eric Baden McIsaac, 22, unemployed of Masterton, appeared in Masterton District Court yesterday. He did not enter a plea to the charge laid indictably under the Crimes Act that he intentionally damaged a Trust House-owned home by fire knowing that life was likely to be endangered.

His solicitor Louise Elder did not seek bail for McIsaac who was remanded in custody by Judge Tony Walsh to appear again on January 14.

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