Fire leaves residents homeless

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Housing NZ workers Shane Nur and Krishnil Nand survey the damage at the Birkinhead flats. Photo / Greg Bowker
Housing NZ workers Shane Nur and Krishnil Nand survey the damage at the Birkinhead flats. Photo / Greg Bowker

A fire that gutted a woman's home on Auckland's North Shore also left her neighbour homeless after the blaze spread upstairs in the building.

Residents in the Birkenhead complex were still visibly shaken yesterday as they woke to see the full extent of the damage - and just how close they, too, came to losing everything.

Firefighters were called to the block of flats in Waratah St shortly after 11pm on Sunday.

They found one flat fully ablaze and neighbours scrambling to raise the alarm by banging on doors and yelling for people to get out.

The woman who occupied the flat was not inside at the time and was being cared for by friends when the Herald visited yesterday.

Richard Hughes, who lives in the flat just above the one that was destroyed by fire, was forced to look for a bed for the night.

His living room ceiling and floor had been scorched black, while the window had smashed from the heat and flames.

Looking around the room sadly, he said: "I've got nowhere to live now. The fire safety people say it's no longer safe for me to stay here and the smell is not good to be around for too long, too.

"I'm looking for a place to stay right now."

Mr Hughes had not been in his home at the time and just a few minutes earlier had come out to see what was happening further down the block, after hearing raised voices.

He was chatting with two other neighbours - including the tenant whose home was destroyed - on the other side of the block, when one of them heard the faint sound of a smoke alarm.

That woman, who wanted to be known only by her first name, Chazel, said they had been inside her home when she heard the sound and thought she could smell smoke.

"I started walking towards Richard's flat and as I was walking downstairs, I happened to put my hand on the side of the building - it was hot.

"I stopped when I felt that and just as I did, the windows exploded.

"I was about a second away from being hurt.

"If I hadn't paused, I would've got the brunt of it."

Chazel ran to alert other tenants downstairs, including a woman who continued to sleep throughout the drama - despite neighbours banging on her door.

"I smashed the window and ran into her room and dragged her out. She was half-asleep and had no idea what was going on. The fire was in the flat next door and she was in real danger."

Fire safety officers inspected the site late on Sunday night and investigators are still to determine the cause of the blaze.

Housing New Zealand representatives went out to the scene about midnight.

Late yesterday, the regional manager for northern Auckland, Neil Adams, said Housing New Zealand would be helping Mr Hughes to find a new place to live within the next few days.

"This afternoon we took him to a local motel where he can stay until the property is ready for him."

- NZ Herald

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