A cruel twist to blaze

MARNIE HALLAHAN
Last updated 05:00 25/06/2013
The Hookers
LUCKY ESCAPE: Cindy Hooker, with 5-year-old son Owen, was hours away from moving her family into their new rental property when she got a call saying the house was on fire.
The Hookers
KITCHEN NIGHTMARE: The blaze began in the kitchen and destroyed the whole upper level of the house.

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A devastating house fire destroyed most of Cindy and Aaron Hooker's possessions just hours before they were due to move in.

Now the Hookers, who moved to the North Shore from South Carolina, are seeking redress from the real estate company they rented the house from.

The entire top floor of the Richmond Ave home they had just signed up to rent was gutted in a blaze caused by a loose electrical connection in the kitchen.

The Hookers spent $17,000 shipping their belongings to New Zealand so their young children Owen and Emma would have some familiar surroundings in their new life.

They spent three days setting up the house with $50,000 of furniture and personal items they'd had sent over and a whole new kitchen including top-of-the-line appliances Mrs Hooker had treated herself to.

The family had planned to move in the night of the fire but decided to stay at Mr Hooker's mother's house to watch something special on TV.

"It sounds silly but we joke that my husband's obsession with TV saved our life that night," Mrs Hooker says.

They paid extra for contents insurance during the shipping process but were yet to organise for their belongings to be insured in the new home.

Beds, clothes and the children's toys and books were salvaged but the family will have to go into debt to replace the rest of its possessions, Mrs Hooker says.

Fire safety investigator Russell Dickson says the fire was accidental and caused by a loose connection in a kitchen light fitting.

But his findings reinforce Mrs Hooker's belief that the blaze could have been prevented.

Mrs Hooker visited the property just days before the fire to get keys from a previous tenant Melanie Strapp.

Mrs Strapp told her she'd had ongoing electrical problems during her four years at the address, saying the lights in the kitchen blew on a near weekly basis.

Mrs Strapp, who has documented her claims in a sworn affidavit, says she conveyed her concerns to property manager Harcourts Milford.

Mrs Hooker believes the agency should have told her about those concerns and wants compensation for the loss of her family's belongings.

Harcourts chief executive Hayden Duncan acknowledges the agency was told about the light bulb situation, but says it promptly sent an electrician to the house to investigate and fix any problem.

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He says it was not aware of ongoing electrical issues and had no reason to believe there were any continuing problems - especially with potential to cause a fire.

The Hookers are in the process of filing a complaint with the Tenancy Tribunal.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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