Lake Ōhau residents raise issues with insurance process

Remnant framework of a Lake Ōhau Village home. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
Remnant framework of a Lake Ōhau Village home. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
Lake Ōhau residents say they may have been unnecessarily delayed from moving back into the village due to issues with demolition.

Roughly half the properties in the village were destroyed or damaged when a fire tore through earlier this month.

The Waitaki District Council told residents yesterday that some will be allowed to move back in to habitable properties on 9 November if it's safe.

Dave Honeyfield who was meant to retire at Lake Ōhau. Instead, the long term holiday home owner was left sifting through the ash of an apartment, a sleep out and two houses - one built less than two years ago.

He couldn't recognise anything until he spotted a DVD amongst the rubble - it was from his father's funeral.

"Well I wiped it down, this DVD. It's been through a massive fire. Wiped it down, put it on when I got home and it worked perfectly. There you go. That was the only thing I found."

A fire-ravaged remains of a house near the shore of Lake Ohau. Photo: Supplied
A fire-ravaged remains of a house near the shore of Lake Ohau. Photo: Supplied
He was concerned about the way insurers have gone about getting demolition quotes.

On Wednesday, his insurer told Honeyfield he could go and get his own quote - weeks after the fire.

"As far as I'm concerned I want the cheapest quote out because it's just gonna cost me. Basically what I want to do is get this stuff taken away safely and put in the right place so I went and got my own quote," he said.

"Well three weeks ago I could have had a quote and I could have been negotiating with the local guys."

He just wanted to get the site cleared so he could work out his next step.

The Barn at Killin B&B co-owner Hugh Spiers said several residents aired their concerns about the demolition during yesterday's Zoom meeting with the Waitaki District Council.

He was wondering if residents could have moved back in earlier than 9 November.

Aerial photographs have revealed the scope of the devastating damage cause by the fire at Lake Ohau. Photo: Pool
Aerial photographs have revealed the scope of the devastating damage cause by the fire at Lake Ohau. Photo: Pool
"There is still a lot of debris in the village ... it's only just come to light that some of the insurance companies are making it the landowners responsibility to clear the debris.

"It must be very, very frustrating for those permanent residents that the houses haven't been affected but they can't move into the village because of this hold up," Spiers said.

His insurance company organised for his property to be completely cleared - he said it now looked like an ice skating rink.

"Could you imagine the frustration if you've got a holiday house here at Lake Ōhau and you're planning to come down and sort it out at Christmas time. Well that's just a bit of a no-go really because you can't have this half burnt house with iron still flapping around in the breeze and ash and charred remains. It's not really good."

But before the debris was cleared, he and his partner returned with sieves and shovels to comb through the remains for any belongings, finding demolition crews had opened it up like a big can to ensure it was safe.

"The heat was so intense. There's just nothing. Broken plates, a few recognisable trinkets but everything's chipped, broken, burnt. That was a really hard day. But these boys have come along now. They left us time, healing time and then they came along and swept it all up and taken the debris away," Spiers said.

"Now we've got a clean palate which we're quite excited about."

Aerial photographs have revealed the scope of the devastating damage cause by the fire at Lake Ohau. Photo: Pool
Aerial photographs have revealed the scope of the devastating damage cause by the fire at Lake Ohau. Photo: Pool

He hoped to speak with their project managers next week, but they planned to return to the village when they can.

The Waitaki District Council held an information session this afternoon for residents, with input from Environment Canterbury and the Insurance Council.

For recovery manager Lichelle Guyan, the meeting was an opportunity to clear the air and answer questions.

"So that people understood the insurance process and understood why we need to be careful when we're taking materials away from site, and for them to understand what they can and can't do in relation to their own insurance," Guyan said.

Eight properties have been demolished so far, six are in progress, with a large number expected to be cleared in the coming weeks.

The council would consider extending the transition period for a few weeks - which gave it powers to close off the road or make other necessary decision to keep people safe, she said.

Insurance Council insurance manager John Lucas said insurers had been happy for residents to get their own quotes, but it could be easier for them to do it.

Aerial photographs have revealed the scope of the devastating damage cause by the fire at Lake Ohau. Photo: Pool
Aerial photographs have revealed the scope of the devastating damage cause by the fire at Lake Ohau. Photo: Pool

"Most people want the insurer to manage their claims from start to finish because it is a pretty stressful thing. It's like building a house but you're dealing with more than that, you're dealing with requirements set down by environment standards for demolition and safe disposal of waste products," Lucas said.

The demolition costs came out of the sum insured - the amount residents nominated when they insured their property, he said.

In terms of prices, the Insurance Council recommended people allow for a minimum of $20,000 for demolition.

Some Lake Ōhau residents are expected to be back in their undamaged homes in less than two weeks.

Tower Insurance chief claims and service officer Jane Hardy said, so far, the company had received five total loss and four partial damage claims, and expected the cost to be between $5 million and $7m.

"Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by the Lake Ōhau fires and we have a dedicated claims manager looking after our customers with a focus on setting things right as quickly as possible," Hardy said.

"Tower's policies offer full replacement for fire, and as part of this, all demolition costs are covered by Tower. Following the fires, we have had our team on the ground assessing the damage and have already completed the demolition for all of our customers with total losses."

The fire that partly destroyed Lake Ohau village is believed to have started in grass, but embers...
The fire that partly destroyed Lake Ohau village is believed to have started in grass, but embers from burning trees probably contributed to the extent of the property damage. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Vero claims executive general manager Campbell Mitchell said 16 claims had been received connected to the fire and half had now been settled.

"Four claims are what we call total loss claims where the whole house will need to be rebuilt. All except one have already been demolished, and we are working on design and consent so that rebuilding can begin as soon as possible. The other claim has been cash settled at the customers' request," Mitchell said.

"We are keeping in very close contact with local government and authorities and work collaboratively with them, but we do put the needs of our customers first and work to ensure that collaboration or community needs don't create undue delays to their claims."

FMG spokesperson Nathan Barrett confirmed 17 claims had been received so far with 30 insured items damaged by clients impacted by the fire.

"We immediately had one of our own insurance assessors at Lake Ōhau following the fires and our focus was proactively contacting our clients to check on their wellbeing," Barrett said.

"We are progressing repairs and/or settlements which include demolition, as quickly as we can. We're also working with our clients to understand the best settlement outcome for them and their families. Further, we're working proactively with the Insurance Council of New Zealand and the Waitaki District Council."

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