Millionaire art collector's home burns

New Plymouth engineer and art patron John Matthews' Omata home has been destroyed by fire.

Matthews has one of the country's most respected collections of contemporary art - however it was unknown whether the art was in his home when it burnt down.

Seven fire engines and two water tankers spent nine hours trying to control the blaze after being called at 12.30am.

New Plymouth fire senior station officer Ian Drewery said there had been a "total loss" of property and the house was burnt to the ground.

He said Matthews and his wife had been alerted to the fire by a smoke detector connected to their security alarm.

"They were well-prepared with fire extinguishers and fire hose reels but they were unable to control the fire and called the Fire Service."

Drewery said the property had no reticulated water supply which made fighting the fire difficult.

"Anyone who doesn't have a water supply, this is their worst nightmare. This is our worst nightmare too. You can't put the fire out without the water."

The fire was burning so furiously firefighters were prevented from entering the house, he said.

"With the wind and the speed the fire was racing through the house it was too dangerous to launch an interior attack."

The efforts of firefighters became limited to ensuring the blaze did not spread to nearby vegetation, he said.

Fire safety officers would be investigating to determine the cause of the fire.

Drewery said it was essential that rural homeowners have alarms, an adequate and convenient water supply and a plan in place in case of fire.

As Chairman of the Len Lye Foundation, Matthews has been one of the most influential proponents of the controversial $11.5 million Len Lye Centre and also provided much of the momentum for the construction of the city's Wind Wand. 

As a young engineer Matthews worked with world renowned artist Len Lye in turning many of his ideas into reality.

The artist bequeathed his collection to the Govett Brewster Art Gallery on his death.

Taranaki Daily News