Mystery house fire stuns owners

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 08:53 02/07/2014
waikato fire
Supplied

INFERNO: The height of a fierce fire that razed a century-old former school house on Monday night.

Claire Field, house fire
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
DEVASTATED: Claire Field inside what’s left of her home, destroyed by fire.

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Fire destroys century old Waikato home

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A century-old Waikato school house has burnt to the ground in mysterious circumstances.

The building became a rural rental late in its life. The final tenant moved out of the Waingaro Rd property a fortnight ago, before it went up in flames late Monday night.

Owners Claire and Steven Field were sifting through the home's remains yesterday struggling to understand how the "beautiful old villa" caught alight.

They were mid-way through significant renovations after a tough three months dealing with tenancy issues.

Claire Field couldn't sleep after photographing the blaze.

"I've got this knot here [in my belly], that's about it. I feel sick to my stomach. But you can't do much about it, can you? It's gone.

"It makes you think, s... , make sure there are working smoke alarms in your house."

A firefighter was treated in hospital for heat exhaustion while battling the fierce fire west of Ngaruawahia.

Seven trucks from as far away as Te Kauwhata and Te Akau responded to the blaze, Fire Service spokesman Jaron Phillips said.

Every room in the four-bedroom building was engulfed in flames when the Ngaruawahia Volunteer Fire Brigade crew arrived shortly before 10pm.

Field described the inferno as "surreal".

She and husband Steve arrived home, a few driveways down, about 9pm.

Good friends spotted the blaze from the road and contacted the Fields and the fire service.

"It's so sad because it was a beautiful house, but it makes you aware of how friggen fast they go," Field said.

"If there was anyone in there, they would have had to have got out very quick."

Field said the rental had been vacant for a fortnight and they were mid-way through renovations.

"We'd literally moved the door forward to the front wall of the house, flush," she said.

"We'd stripped a lot of stuff out. All the gib board was sitting in there. All the bathroom wear was in there ready to go."

Field, who immigrated from England a decade ago, said the old school house was shifted onto the site in the nineties.

It boasted high ceilings and a sturdy skeleton of dry native timber. The flames consumed it rapidly.

Backup firefighters were requested, and the Fire Service remained at the scene for four and a half hours.

What started the blaze remains a mystery, for now.

Field's first thought was that an arsonist was to blame.

"Because we've had people living in it for eight years, it goes empty and we're renovating and it burns down and the fire didn't start where we're renovating - everything was turned off."

Fire investigator Dave Jenkins traced the fire's origin to the kitchen area but he was unable to deduce what caused it.

He wondered about a wiring issue but he said there were too many things that he couldn't explain.

"We can say it started inside but we don't know how or why."

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The house was locked, there was no sign of forced entry and the owners said everything was turned off.

Jenkins will return to the scene on Thursday with the insurance analyst to take another look.

If that proves fruitless, the cause will be recorded as "undetermined".

- Waikato

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