Kids huffing fly spray when car goes up in flames - police

Four children were injured when the car they were in caught fire in their backyard.
NANCY EL-GAMEL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Four children were injured when the car they were in caught fire in their backyard.

Four children injured in a car fire were huffing fly spray when one sparked a light, police say. 

Three people aged 15, 13 and 12, as well as another of unknown age, were taken to Waikato Hospital after the blaze in Huntly on Wednesday night. 

Two boys and one girl were seriously injured and another had moderate burns. 

One was understood to be undergoing surgery at Waikato Hospital for facial burns on Thursday. 

They had all been in a derelict car parked in the backyard of a Semple St property when an explosion was heard at 10.45pm. 

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Western Waikato police Sergeant Neil Mouncher said the four had been huffing fly spray when the fire ignited. He was unsure if it was a lighter or match that started the fire.

"I believe four youths - male and female - were huffing fly spray in the car and then it has exploded.

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"Not sure if one of them thought it was a good idea to have a cigarette while huffing - I don't know yet."

He said three of the four, all aged between 12 and 15, were from out of town and it was unknown where their parents were. 

Adults were present at the property when the incident occurred. 

"Police are investigating and there is the possibility of Youth Aid."

Child, Youth and Family had also been notified, he said. 

"Apart from setting fire to themselves, sniffing fly spray can't be very nice."

Fire crews arrived to find a car engulfed in flames in the backyard of a home, Huntly Fire Chief Craig Bush said.

They were initially unaware children had been in the car. 

"It was a fully blown car fire," Bush said. "The kids were initially in there when the fire started, but were inside the house when we arrived.

"We are all wondering why four young people were sitting in a car in the middle of the night and then it catches fire - there has to be something going on."

Damage made it impossible to tell where the fire ignited, he said. 

"At this stage, it is undetermined - fire safety will work through that to find out what caused the blaze - you couldn't tell if it was the front, back or middle."

The NZ Herald reported that aerosol cans were found in the wreckage and that one of the injured children admitted playing with a lighter.

A source said if the kids had been huffing gas, it could have caused a build-up of gas in the car that ignited when a spark was triggered.

The parents, who were at the home at the time, appeared "emotional", Bush said.  

Once fire crews had the fire under control, they helped provide first aid to the children. 

They received burns of varying degrees. 

A neighbour who asked not to be named said her daughter was making biscuits when she noticed the fire.

"We heard, like, a bomb, a loud bang, as if their tyres had blown. 

"After [the fire brigade] put the fire out, we could smell rubber. We had chucked our hose over the fence [to help]. There was lots of smoke."

She said her neighbours have quite a bit of space behind their property and that's where they keep their cars. 

They understood a 12 year old had been playing with a lighter.

Most neighbours woke up to the noise of fire engines and noticed the power was off down the street. 

Another Semple St resident, who also wanted to remain anonymous, was in her backyard when she heard what she believed to be firecrackers or fireworks.

"A short time later, fire trucks were coming down the street."

Drug Foundation Campaign

Huffing is a topic that makes the executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation's blood boil.

Ross Bell has seen the same scenario play out many times.

An almost exact case was in a house in Auckland in 2014. Three teenagers were seriously injured - one was set on fire - when a room they were huffing in exploded.

In 2012, two teenage boys in Dunedin suffered serious burns when the gas cylinder they were sniffing caught fire and exploded.

"There have been quite important reports highlighting the problems of huffing and the scale of huffing," Bell said.

"It's an issue that affects mainly young people and very young people."

In 2012, 12-year-old Darius Logan Claxton was the youngest person to die because of huffing.

"These are absolute tragedies. And every time they happen, I will have an interview like this and will remind people that the Chief Coroner has highlighted this as a problem and that the [government's] Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee has highlighted it as a problem.

"The government of the time will say it's terrible and will look into it, but successive governments have done little or nothing on this issue.

"I get to the end of my tether. When you see this happening - the age of the kids being harmed here - and nothing's been done since we last saw a case like this.

"It pisses me off."

If you have concerns over solvent abuse, call the Drug and Alcohol Helpline on 0800 787 797, or the Poison Centre on 0800 764 766, or Youthline on 0800 376 633. All calls are free.

 - Stuff

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