A fire allegedly started by a Gisborne man accused of burning his partner to death was so hot it melted a fire fighter's helmet, the High Court at Gisborne has been told.
Lawrence Huihui Wawatai, 57, of Tikitiki north of Gisborne, is accused of murdering Maryann Akuhata by setting her on fire at the couple's Tikitiki home on October 10, 2012.
On the second day of his trial, the jury heard witness statements from members of the emergency services and the family of Ms Akuhata.
Ms Akuhata's sister-in-law Rochelle Akuhata said she and her husband had been drinking with the couple on the morning of the fire at the Wawatai's property and then at their own home.
Ms Akuhata's brother Kuki described his sister, a mother of three, as a "happy and humble hard-worker", who was looking forward to seeing her grandchildren the next day.
"She was always happy. She just wanted to be with her mokopuna."
Although he was aware that she had tried to kill herself about 20 years ago, he had no knowledge of any recent issues with mental health or depression.
She seemed happy while he was at their property.
The court also heard from Tikitiki volunteer firefighter Adrienne Ngata, one of the first fire fighters on the scene.
Wawatai told her that his partner was still inside the house. She then asked him what had happened, she told the court.
"He said he had found out that he had got cancer and that upset her, and she doused herself and him in petrol. He just clicked his fingers to describe how the fire was started."
Ms Ngata said he told her he tried to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.
She could smell alcohol on him but not petrol, she told the court.
Firefighter Brent Reedy said Ms Ngata told firefighters a person was reportedly in the house and gave a rough guess as to where they could be located.
Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus tried to enter the house but his hose-line ran out of water and firefighters were beaten back by the heat.
"It got so hot that my helmet melted." That had not happened before, he said.
Ruatoria Constable Benjamin Reedy told the court he read Wawatai his rights in the back of an ambulance where he was being treated for burns to his wrists. He "smelt like petrol".
Mr Reedy told the court that in his statement, Wawatai said the couple had argued because he had told Ms Akuhata he had cancer but would not see a doctor.
After an argument Wawatai said he "might as well burn down the house" but told Mr Reedy he did not mean it, the court was told.
In his statement, Wawatai said he did not see his partner put petrol on herself but he did see her reach for a match. She was then on fire and called out for him to help. He picked up a fire extinguisher from the shed.
"I used the whole extinguisher on her but she was still burning," he said in the statement.
The trial continues.
- Gisborne Herald