Family warn of dangers of dehumidifiers after tragic death in house fire.

A house fire that killed an Auckland grandmother was likely caused by a dehumidifier that went up in flames, the woman's grieving family says.

Now, in the hope of avoiding further tragedy, 64-year-old Joy Kaan's family are warning people to think twice about running dehumidifiers 24/7 or unattended.

"It was the most horrific day of our lives and we don't want anyone else to go through what we have gone through," said Kaan's daughter Demelza Stanford.

On August 10, the Kaan family's lives changed forever.

Just after midnight Kaan and husband Pieter heard a loud bang in their home on Awaroa Rd in Helensville. They rushed out of their upstairs bedroom and saw flames coming from the bottom level of their two-storey house.

They ran back to their room to call 111 but soon realised they were running out of time and needed to get out. Pieter made it to the front door of the house before he noticed Kaan was not behind him.


He called out to his wife, but there was no response.

Unable to go back inside the house, Pieter went to his neighbour's and asked them to call emergency services. He also rushed to get a ladder to climb up to the couple's bedroom window and a hose.

It was then that Stanford, who lives down the road, was woken by her parent's neighbour.

She reached the house minutes after fire crews arrived to find it engulfed in flames and her dad at the back of the property.

"I asked him where Mum was and he just said, 'She's still in there', in a frantic state," said Stanford.

"At that moment I knew Mum was gone and my world basically imploded. I felt helpless and terrified and absolutely devastated.

"I knew life as it was, was basically over for us as a family."

The fire gutted the Kaan's two-storey home in Helensville. Photo/Supplied
The fire gutted the Kaan's two-storey home in Helensville. Photo/Supplied

Almost three months on, Stanford said she still felt a huge part of her was missing.

"I wake up every morning hoping it was all a dream."


Pieter, 62, has been living with Stanford, her wife and their son since the tragedy. He and Kaan have three children and three grandchildren.

"She doted on the grandkids. She absolutely loved them. They basically lit up her face every time she saw them," said Stanford.

Stanford said she was told by an insurance investigator that the two-year old dehumidifier started the fire. She said it was so damaged investigators could not determine what caused it to catch fire.

A Fire and Emergency NZ draft investigation report into the incident showed a dehumidifier was in the area of the house where the blaze was thought to have started. National manager of fire investigation Peter Wilding said although the appliance could not be ruled out, it was yet to be confirmed as the cause of the fire.

Stanford said her parents had been running their dehumidifier almost continually in the damp bottom level of their house.

"We used to do it as well. No one really knows that they can cause fires, I guess."

Stanford said there "was no way" she would use a dehumidifier again.

"And I don't think anyone in my family would either. Not even while we are around the house.

"We just want to make sure people are aware to be careful and do not leave [dehumidifiers] running overnight or unattended."

Pieter Kaan (right) was lucky to escape the fire that killed his wife Joy (left). Pictured with daughter Demelza Stanford (centre). Photo/Supplied
Pieter Kaan (right) was lucky to escape the fire that killed his wife Joy (left). Pictured with daughter Demelza Stanford (centre). Photo/Supplied

Wilding said 53 fires have been caused by dehumidifiers and air conditioners nationwide, since July 2006.

"The type of appliance that they are means they are likely to be left on for quite long periods of time."

He said dust builds up on the filter, which if not cleaned regularly, can cause the dehumidifier to overheat.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said that although insurers haven't reported a trend or issue with dehumidifiers, they do pose a fire risk.

"Dehumidifiers do cause a particular fire risk because they are one of those appliances that people often leave on and unattended.

"People should always turn off as many appliances as possible before leaving the house because they can overheat or malfunction. Multi-adaptor plugs, electric blankets left on and laptops over-heating on beds are other common examples of fire risk."

Stanford is running in the Auckland marathon today to raise money for Victim Support.

She said the organisation was "amazing" in the days after her mum died, by lending an ear to the family and helping them deal with grief.

"We knew we had someone [who wasn't family] we could talk to that we didn't have to protect and be strong with.

"I wanted to give back to them."

WorkSafe's tips to keep your dehumidifier from becoming a safety risk:

• Clean the air filter periodically.
• Handle with care because damage can lead to a locked rotor fault that could cause a fire.
• If unused for a while be sure to check it before leaving it running unattended, by looking for any signs of mechanical damage (including signs of any water damage), inspecting power cords and replacing when necessary, checking the air filters are clean.

Once switched on:
• Listen for abnormal noises such as knocking, undue vibration, especially noisy or unusual stop/starting, during first half hour. If you hear any unusual sounds, switch the dehumidifier off immediately and get it properly checked.
• If you smell burning or any unusual odour that persists, switch it off immediately and get it properly checked.