Closest fire station unmanned when fatal blaze broke out in Burnham

One person died and three were injured after a fire at a housing block at Burnham military camp...
One person died and three were injured after a fire at a housing block at Burnham military camp in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Photo: RNZ/Nathan McKinnon
The fire station closest to where a person was killed in a fierce fire at Burnham Military Camp was unmanned when it broke out.

A 16-year-old girl died in the blaze south of Christchurch that started just after 2am on Wednesday morning, and three others were hurt, police said.

The death has been referred to the coroner.

Of the three people who were taken to Christchurch Hospital, two have been released. The third is in a moderate but stable condition.

Police and fire investigators had completed a scene examination, detective sergeant Brent Menzies said.

"Enquiries are ongoing however police do not believe at this stage the fire to be suspicious."

Police and Fire and Emergency investigators are working to establish the cause of the blaze.

The New Zealand Defence Force confirmed the Burnham Military Fire Station was not staffed at the time of the fire, meaning the first station that was able to attend was from Rolleston, at 2.23am, 11 minutes after it received the call to attend.

Forty firefighters worked to contain the blaze. Photo: RNZ/Nathan McKinnon
Forty firefighters worked to contain the blaze. Photo: RNZ/Nathan McKinnon
The Burnham Military Camp fire master arrived on the scene at 2.40am, in a Command vehicle which has no fire suppression capability, it said.

The Defence Force said the military station had been operating at reduced capacity since January this year.

"This is in part due to the need to provide staff respite, and because of low Emergency Responder staffing levels," a spokesperson said.

"As such, personnel provide coverage between 8am and 4.30pm, Monday through Friday."

The decision to operate on reduced coverage was consulted on, and supported by Fire and Emergency area commanders, the Defence Force said.

It said the Memorandum of Understanding between the Defence Force and FENZ ensured that FENZ provided coverage during periods of reduced Defence Force coverage.

"The Burnham Emergency Response Troop maintains the capacity to support a local FENZ response to major events and/or emergencies for discrete periods, such as during the response to the Port Hills fires earlier this year. That response was supported by two NZDF Rural Fire Appliances, and up to six fire-fighters rotating on a daily basis," it said.

The Defence Force has warned the government it is in a dire state, describing it as vulnerable, and the Navy as extremely fragile.

Witness recalls hearing 'a lot of screaming'

A woman, who lives in housing at the Burnham Military Camp, witnessed the fire and said she was woken by the sound of screaming.

The resident, whom RNZ agreed not to name, said it was just after 2am when she rushed outside.

"By the time I got out, it was just all in flames from the bottom up, and you could just hear a lot of screaming from the road, from a lady," she said.

"It was quite unsettling, we didn't know if there was anyone in the house.

It was upsetting being unable to help, she said.

"We were all standing together on the street checking up on each other, and over time the fire brigade and police arrived."

She said locals had been feeling unsettled since.

"Everyone's chipping in and helping each other. We've been offered support by the Defence Force and police."