Firefighters investigate if blaze that destroyed homes was linked to rubbish fire

Firefighters are investigating whether a large vegetation fire that destroyed two homes in North Canterbury could be linked to a rubbish fire days earlier, the property’s owner says.

The fire in Loburn, near Rangiora, broke out on the afternoon of January 19.

The fire burned through about 10ha, destroying two houses, a converted church, 10 sheds, and a number of cars and machinery.

The Herald can now reveal that firefighters were called to a rubbish fire on Loburn Whiterock Road on January 17.

The owners of the property, who the Herald has chosen not to name, confirmed they had burnt “only a tiny little bit” of paper and cardboard in a barrel on their property.

“We were there until it went out,” a woman said.

However, the couple had to call Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) after “something flared up later”.

She said she did not see any smoke coming from the barrel after then.

“We had a sprinkler on there the whole time anyway.”

She did not want to comment on whether the fire could have reignited again on Friday afternoon.

“I have no wish to make any speculation on that. The fireys have got this under investigation and we are working with them on this matter.”

“Whether it sparked up from this or not they have not been able to tell us.”

Properties were destroyed in the North Canterbury fires. Photo: George Heard
Properties were destroyed in the North Canterbury fires. Photo: George Heard
She said residents could “speculate up the wazoo”.

“But seen as even the fire investigators aren’t sure who knows. It’s been so dry that anybody driving up with their car because it’s been dry grass alongside the road and all that kind of stuff, it could’ve been from anything.”

The week since the fire had been “shattering”, she said.

“This is incredibly difficult to deal with,” she said.

“We live here and people will be speculating all those sorts of things and we still don’t know where it started and if they’re pointing the finger at us they can carry on doing so they might point the finger at whoever they like, but we don’t know.”

In response to questions from the Herald, a Fenz spokeswoman said the investigation into the fires on January 19 was not completed.

Another Loburn resident, who asked not to be named, told the Herald the last 10 days had been “really stressful”.

“The worst bit was just the loss of property and the neighbour’s properties that’s just been awful. We’ve been distressed that other people have lost their properties as well, it’s been horrible.

“But also not knowing where to from here, because while Fenz are still making up their mind our insurance company is not helping ... we will be footing the bill unless Fenz are able to point the finger about where it started.”

Damage caused by the vegetation fires. Photo: George Heard
Damage caused by the vegetation fires. Photo: George Heard
The resident said the “whole community” was full of speculation about how the fire started.

“It’s not about finger-pointing, nothing was done intentionally ... but, from a financial perspective we are now up for thousands to clean up and we have to pay for that.”

The resident said they were “really upset and stressed” about what had happened.

“But also feeling a sense of relief that we still have a home but then also feeling a sense of guilt because other people don’t.

“Just massive gratitude to the locals who put themselves at risk that day to help other people and get stock out and all that kind of stuff.”

Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon said earlier that his heart goes out to the people who were affected.

“Our community does get behind people at these times, but our priority at the moment is to work alongside the amazing Fenz crews and offer all the support we can, including welfare.”

Gordon thanked fire crews for helping save family pets and farm animals.

“These guys went out and fed their pets and looked after chickens. For families, their pets are really important to them, and that was a great comfort to people last night.”

Buildings and property have been destroyed by two large vegetation fires in North Canterbury....
Buildings and property have been destroyed by two large vegetation fires in North Canterbury. Photo: George Heard
Resident Elizabeth du Plessis, who lost her property to the fire, told the Herald she’s devastated.

“It started around 2pm ... I was busy with payments in the office and someone knocked down the door almost to say your property is on fire.”

“Now ... we are evaluating the property; that’s our livelihood,” Du Plessis said.

Resident George Gooderham told the Herald he was painting inside his property when he smelled smoke and went outside to see his whole hedge on fire.

“It came too close to comfort really.

“I’ve been awake all night, pretty much had about an hour’s sleep, just trying to find hotspots and ensuring that the wind didn’t pick up and keep it going,” Gooderham said.

Loburn resident Sarah Rowbotham said she and other people scrambled to rescue horses from a nearby field as the fire spread.

“We just got in and did it; you don’t think about what’s around you, just to get them to safety,” she said.

“[A post] was put up for help, and we were right there, so we got our float and another lady up the road so it could be done in one hit. Okuku/Loburn has a fantastic community like that.”

Rowbotham told the Herald they moved the horses about 1km when the wind was blowing away from them. “The horses were terrified of the helicopters, so it took a bit of catching.”

By Sam Sherwood