House gutted in blaze

A Blackman Rd house at Earnscleugh, near Alexandra, was gutted after a fire ripped through it yesterday afternoon.

No-one was in the house at the time the fire started about 1.45pm, as a 15-year-old male occupant and his friend had left the property shortly before the blaze to go swimming in the searing 35degC heat.

The youth's parents were out of the area working, and travelled back from Wanaka when they heard of the fire. The Central Otago District Council registered the property as being owned by R.A. and K.M. Steel.

Neighbours alerted the Alexandra Volunteer Fire Brigade and police to the fire, and services arrived just before 2pm to find the home completely involved, according to deputy chief fire officer Mark Hutton.

Two fire appliances and a rural fire water tanker were used by 16 firefighters to battle the blaze, as neighbours and the young male occupant and his friend watched while the home was destroyed.

Large black clouds of smoke billowed out over Earnscleugh, and when flames were extinguished about 2.20pm, a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke engulfed the property.

The male occupant and his friend were interviewed by police and received victim support counselling at the scene.

They were too young to publicly comment on the incident without their parents, who could not be contacted yesterday evening.

Mr Hutton said it was not known where or how the fire started. A fire investigation unit from either Queenstown or Dunedin would examine the property as soon as it was safe.

Detective Ian Kerrisk, of Alexandra, said the police and fire service were keen to hear from anyone who may have taken photos of the fire before emergency services arrived at the scene.

Any photographs could help to identify the possible causes, or locations of the fire when it started, and would be forwarded to the fire investigation unit for examination.

‘‘It's not being treated as suspicious [the fire], but it's important the cause is known, and that's why anyone that took a photo before the firefighters got here would help,'' Det Kerrisk said.

He said the police were ‘‘very grateful'' to all people who had made calls alerting them to the fire, and who also made sure there were no people or animals inside the house at the time.

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