Elderly couple lose everything in fire

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 11:05 11/01/2013
Daniel Tobin

David Hartley talks about the terrible loss of his home.

Deanna and David Hartley
Kirk Hargreaves Zoom
ALL GONE: Deanna and David Hartley's family home was destroyed in the blaze. All they have left is the clothes they were wearing, their car and a bucket containing some food. They have no insurance.

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Offers of help are pouring in for elderly couple Deanna and David Hartley who lost their home and a lifetime of possessions in yesterday's fire.

The couple, both in their 70s, lost the family home where they raised six children over nearly 40 years in the fire, southwest of Christchurch.

All they have left are the clothes they were wearing and their car.

Deanna Hartley had a green bucket given to her by a friend. It contained a cucumber, some eggs, a few potatoes and a magazine.

They have no insurance after letting it lapse while they were in Australia helping their son build a home. When the September quake happened, they were unable to reinsure. 

The Hartleys returned to the property this morning to pick through the charred remains of their lives.

Standing amid the ruins of the home he built himself back in 1975, David Hartley said he doubted whether there was anything apart from some scrap tin that could be salvaged.

"It's one of those things you can never prepare your mind for," he said. "It's a shock - just one of those days when things couldn't have been worse.

"It's been a fantastic place to live - my children grew up here. It's been a fantastic journey."

Deanne Hartley said the couple had virtually nothing left: "I've got $60."

The couple were away from their Shands Rd home when the fire struck.

"On our way home we could see the smoke. We thought it looked like it was coming from our direction. We got closer to home and there were roadblocks everywhere and we couldn't go anywhere. They wouldn't tell us anything," Deanne Hartley said.

"Eventually, after an hour or two, a policeman took me down to have a look. We wanted to see if our house was all right. They took me down to see and it was a shock," she said.

"Everything was just burnt to the ground. Nothing to save."

The couple's son, Clive Hartley, who lives on the family farm, was at the property when the fire struck.

"I got some garden hoses so I could try and squirt water around. You could see the sparks and the flames coming. The hedge was on fire and the woodshed was on fire," he said.

"The flames were right round the house. It was catching on the grass and stuff. It just got so overwhelming I thought there was no use me being there."

He grabbed his brother's dog Turbo and drove through the flames to escape - but was unable to find his sister's dog Diesel, a small jack russell cross.

"There were flames flying around everywhere ... I just felt calm and I knew God would look after me. He didn't do a very good job with the house though."

The couple did receive one piece of good news last night: Diesel, who they feared had perished in the fire, survived the blaze.

The dog came bounding up to them, barking, as they were standing surveying the wreckage of their home late last night. He was at the vet today being treated for smoke inhalation.

"It would break my heart if he doesn't come right," David Hartley said.

The couple are staying with their daughter for the next couple of weeks but don't know where they will go after that. And calls have poured in this morning from Cantabrians who want to help.

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Jessie Christensen said as you get older you don't have time to get get back to the life you had before. ''I wanted to help them out and make sure they are going to be comfortable and not left like some people were after the earthquakes.''

Christine Burbery said it was ''so sad'' that the couple had lost their home of more than 40 years and wanted to ''help out in any way''.

A thread on The Press Facebook site has readers calling for a dedicated donation account.

Meanwhile, the equestrian community has rallied together, offering free temporary grazing and transportation to horses caught up in the blaze.

POWERLESS AS HOMES THREATENED

Amy Throsby and her mother Bev watched helplessly at a fire cordon as their home was obscured by black smoke, unaware if it was engulfed by flames.

Their Selwyn Rd home, which is close to the quarry where the scrub fire began, is not insured, neither are the contents.

Throsby said they could not get house insurance following the September 2010 earthquake.

Throsby told Radio New Zealand this morning their home was still standing but "completely gutted inside".

She was at home alone when the fire started, noticed smoke, and went outside to investigate.

"I was wondering what the hell was going on," she said.

Then she saw the fire, which had started in a paddock, spread down a hay bale dust and sound barrier between the homes and the quarry.

Throsby understood Marshall Eggs, where her mother worked nearby, was one of the casualties of the blaze.

She suspected thousands of chickens would have been killed, and that the home of the owner of Marshall Eggs was also engulfed.

Throsby ran to look for his dog Ted, who was old and deaf, but with the smoke and flames had to pull back as it was getting too dangerous.

"I kind of evacuated myself," she said.

Robinsons Rd resident Dallas McDonald stood on a container observing the fire, hoping changing winds would not push it towards his property.

"I got home about 3pm. I was driving down Selwyn Rd and it was just a small fire in a paddock, and by the time got home it had jumped the road and shot through."

He was amazed at how quickly it spread.

"With the wind helping it, it's just leaping from tree to tree. If it wasn't for the monsoon buckets we'd be in real trouble."

Ambrosia Nurseries worker Rory Ferguson said he had just gone on a break when he saw smoke coming from the other side of Selwyn Rd and then saw the fire "jump" the road towards the nursery.

"As soon as we saw the fire we ran and grabbed as many hoses as we could but the water pressure had gone."

Fellow nursery worker Esther Campfens said some of the employees "smelt it before we saw it".

"We thought someone was an idiot lighting a fire in this weather. We thought it was someone burning off."

As the blaze spread it engulfed the hedge-line next to the nursery, as well as a tunnel house and barn.

It was understood fire crews also cut fences in an attempt to save stock threatened by the fire.

* Selwyn District Council has set up an email address for offers of help: selwynfire@selwyn.govt.nz

- The Press

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