Fire Service warns against sleepouts and candles

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 15:38 29/07/2014

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The Fire Service has warned against the fire risks of using candles and alternative heating, following three deaths in the last year involving people sleeping in caravans and sleepouts.  

Last year a Masterton man died from a fire started by a cigarette in a garage converted into a bedroom, the coroner found.

He was one of three deaths related to people overflowing from houses and sleeping elsewhere.

Coroner Garry Evans this morning found Archie Aihe Huirama Ormsby's death in a garage fire on October 2 last year at his family's home in Cameron Cres, Masterton was an accident - ruling the causes of death smoke inhalation and burns.

The coroner's inquiry heard how the 44-year-old's father and neighbour tried desperately to save Ormsby who appeared to have been trying to escape - but the garage was locked and its door bolted down.

Neighbour Paikea Te Whare told the Dominion Post last year that his dog's barking had awoken him, alerting him to the fire in his ''gentle giant'' cousin Ormsby's converted garage.

''It is a pretty sad case,'' Evans said, commenting that the pair tried their best to save him.

By the time they broke in and dragged Ormsby out he was unconscious and was declared dead at the scene.

Hutt Valley and Wairarapa fire risk manager Stuart Law gave evidence that the fire started on a couch, potentially from a dropped cigarette. There was no smoke alarm in the garage, Law said.

National fire investigation and arson reduction manager Peter Wilding said following the inquiry that in the past year there had been two fires nationwide in which people died in sleepouts, and one fatal in a caravan.

The week before Ormsby died fire fighters were called to a blaze in Whangarei at a sleepout that slept additional people overflowing from the house. The whole property was destroyed.

Alternative housing appeared to be common in New Zealand for financial reasons which also led people to take fire risks with heating and lighting like using candles, Wilding said. 

''For every fire fatality that occurs, the Fire Service attends scores of house fires where large numbers of people are living. Many are sleeping in garages, sleepouts and caravans on the properties,'' he warned. 

''This is so common that it's only a matter of time before we get a mass fire fatality in New Zealand. And the tragedy is, these can be avoided by early detection of the fire to allow people to escape.

"Long-life smoke alarms will help do this.''

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- The Dominion Post

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