Bookabach holiday rental leads to Mangakino meth lab fire
Their guests provided references and paid up front for a week's lakeside holiday.
But now a pair of unsuspecting landlords have been left with a burnt out shell after a suspected drug lab fire claimed their holiday home, near Taupo.
The house on a sleepy no exit street overlooking Lake Mangakino had been hired for a week long stay though the online website Bookabach.
It was understood equipment used in the manufacture of methamphetamine was discovered at the 100sqm three bedroom bach that went up in flames early Monday morning.
Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw of Taupo police confirmed the fire was "highly suspicious".
Further evidence needed to be tested by ESR but at this stage police suspected there was a meth lab connected to the blaze, he said.
Taupo-based Kim Sullivan, who owns the home with her husband, said their rental house had been booked out for the week.
A woman had made the booking online stating two people would be staying at the house for a week long visit from last Thursday.
Money had been paid into the Sullivans' bank account and a payment confirmation slip sent.
"We are quite shocked actually, you rent out your house assuming people are there for a holiday and to have a good time - it's quite devastating to know that bad things can happen."
The fast-burning blaze had ripped through the home on Rimu St, endangering the neighbouring holiday homes at 4.30am.
Two people were initially unaccounted for but police later said they were not believed to be inside the home. A car was left parked on the driveway, undrivable from burned tyres.
"We are investigating and need to speak with the occupants of the house," Cranshaw said.
On hearing of the fire, Sullivan contacted emergency services to inform them two people were staying at the property. She had not heard from them since.
"We live about half an hour away from the house, we had reports to say the house was fully ablaze.
"We actually had more people booked to move in on Thursday, obviously they are not going to be staying there."
During the booking process Sullivan had checked the renter's profile, which included a photograph, and references on the site.
"The people had rented through Bookabach before and they had some good feedback, we always look at people's feedback when it's a new person and they had two items of positive feedback on there."
The couple have owned holiday homes for a number of years and never encountered anything like this.
"I have seen for myself the devastation, I went back yesterday and it was like a bad dream."
Bookabach general manager Peter Miles said there had been one other case where a bookabach property in Northland may have been used as a suspected meth lab.
He recommended providers vet guests beforehand, through a phonecall and by checking out their social media profiles.
There was always going to be some risk for any accommodation provider, he said, but from what he had seen the chances were slim.
A police clandestine lab team had been working through the blackened remains and collapsed roof of the house on Wednesday morning.
Fire investigator Jon Rewi said the fire had ignited in the kitchen area, and was likely deliberately lit.
He also noted evidence of an accelerant which had burnt holes in the floor down the hallway.
Speaking generally about fires that were suspected to be linked to drug labs, Rewi said chemicals involved posed many health risks, for fire crews, investigators and those living in the homes.
"They can be quite violent especially when there is chemicals still in there, it's like having several drums of petrol in your house."
Fire investigators wore protective gear including respirators and masks when dealing with such fires.
And there were also health risks to people who booked holiday homes after potential drug labs went undetected, he said.
Cranshaw urged all homeowners renting out properties to conduct due diligence on those wanting to book property.