Three candles set bedding on fire, says tenant

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 09:06 03/09/2014
 Nick Lane
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ
DESTROYED: The empty shell of a house on Main St that was gutted by fire early Sunday morning.
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A Blenheim man who woke in the middle of the night to flames creeping along his bed says he will start again after losing all his possessions.

Bill Gardiner had been reading by candlelight in the bedroom of his Main St home on Saturday night. The electricity to the house had been disconnected, so he rested a candle holder with three lit candles on his bed so he could read, Gardiner said.

He must have nodded off to sleep, because he woke to the heat of flames at the base of his bed about 3am.

In a panic, he tried to drag the burning mattress outside, but the flames doubled in size every second, he said.

"The room filled with smoke pretty fast," he said.

"I tried to get the bed out, but I gave up on it because the flames were getting too big."

He had been renting the home for more than two years and lost 30 years of possessions in the blaze, Gardiner said.

There was a smoke alarm installed in the kitchen, but he had taken the batteries out because they were flat and kept beeping. Gardiner didn't think an alarm would have made a difference as the fire started in the bedroom, he said.

Blenheim chief fire officer Rob Dalton said for many, smoke alarms could mean the difference between life and death.

Dalton and two volunteer firefighters were visiting homes in Gascoigne St yesterday to teach residents fire safety as part of the intensive street clean-up, where organisations and volunteers helped clean up a street in Blenheim.

They were checking smoke alarms for the expiry or manufactory dates to make sure they were less than 10 years old.

Each house in the street could be given up to two free photoelectric alarms, which had a 10-year battery life and sensed smoke by seeing it, making it ideal for homes as it didn't react to cooking, Dalton said.

The early warning that smoke alarms provided was crucial, Dalton said.

"If there's a fire in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep, this will wake you up," he said.

Alarms should be installed in the middle of the ceiling in all bedrooms, the kitchen/living area and in the hallway, Dalton said.

Gardiner said he encouraged people to install smoke alarms in their homes.

He might have lost everything in the fire, but he was alive, he said.

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"That's the main thing, I'll just start again," he said.

He had been sleeping at his mother's house since the fire and had gone back to the site of the Main St house every day to make sure he hadn't missed anything, he said.

Gardiner's landlord and the owner of house John Shields was at the site yesterday assessing the damage.

He had insurance but it was too early to think about rebuilding, he said.

Shields owned Grove Park Motor Lodge on Grove Rd and said he would help Gardiner out if he needed somewhere to stay.

- Marlborough

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