Concerns have been raised about the potential asbestos risk to people and nearby businesses following a fire that destroyed three shops in Waipu's main street.

Waipu Hammer Hardware owner Coralie Roberts' store is adjacent to the charred remains and she was concerned about whether the site is safe to be around.

"My staff are concerned because they're not sure if they're safe or not and I can't get an answer from anyone."

The shops - a cafe, a herbal medicine store and a pharmacy - were destroyed in a blaze in the early hours of September 30 and at the time people were warned to stay indoors and keep their windows closed because of an asbestos risk.


"We've been keeping our automatic doors shut because we've been getting a lot of dust from the fire in the shop," Roberts said.

She said the dust could be anything - ash, asbestos or something else.

Roberts said she had called various agencies but she said none had given her any information.

"I just want to know if it's safe."

Demolition of the site of three former shops in Waipu destroyed by fire is set to get under way. Photo/Tania Whyte
Demolition of the site of three former shops in Waipu destroyed by fire is set to get under way. Photo/Tania Whyte

Daniel Macdonald and Colette Sherley and their two children, Ash, 6 and Hazel, 4, have temporarily moved out of their house, which was behind the shops.

They too had been asking if it was safe to live there.

On Tuesday night, they were told the power and water to the house would be cut off when demolition started today.

The family started frantically searching for somewhere to stay, finding a temporary rental in Waipu Cove with their insurance company agreeing to cover the costs.


Sherley said they couldn't afford to move out any sooner, but she was glad to be out of the house now.

Northland District Health Board locum medical officer of health Dr Simon Baker said the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases is extremely low for low-level short-term exposure.

"This is because the risk of disease is directly related to the amount of asbestos, and the length of exposure. Short-term low-level exposure is likely to pose negligible risk of disease.

"Those harmed by asbestos are typically those who work in industries where exposure to asbestos occurs, and occurs over many years or decades."

Baker said the risk of harm from the fire will have been even lower than usual as it occurred at night, when most people will have been indoors, and it being a cold night with most windows closed.

"Much of the asbestos-containing material from the fire will now have dispersed."

Northland Regional Council water and wastes monitoring manager Alison McHugh said an assessment of the situation by NRC determined the largest risk posed was to public health and NDHB was subsequently notified.

She said NRC also provided a list of appropriately qualified practitioners to assist with the management of the clean-up.

"NRC's primary areas of interest are in the disposal of asbestos to land and will be following up with those involved in the clean-up to ensure the waste has gone to an authorised facility."