Pastors return to family after arson attack

Last updated 13:00 22/05/2012
Champion Rd fire
PATRICK HAMILTON/FAIRFAX NZ

DEVASTATION: The aftermath of a Saturday night fire on Champion Rd.

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Richmond pastors Jono and Vanessa Martin were on a church mission in Zimbabwe when they received the news that their Champion Rd house had been badly damaged by a suspicious fire on Saturday.

The Martins were expected to arrive back in Richmond today after leaving Zimbabwe early to be with their three children after the tragedy.

The house was unoccupied at the time of the fire although a dog and caged bird were killed in the blaze which started at about 8.30pm.

Richmond New Life Church elder Richard Kempthorne said this morning that the fire was a tragedy for the Martins who were a big part of the church's close-knit community. He said the church would do whatever it could to provide support for the family.

"As you can imagine the whole church feels for them immensely and we are just waiting to see what we can do to help. It will be family only today to give them some space then the church will be ready to embrace them."

Mr Kempthorne said the Martins had been in Zimbabwe with the Nelson-based charity Kiwi Link. The international charity helps run orphanages and food and water relief projects in that country.

Rai Valley farmer Judith Todd, who also assists at a Zimbabwe orphanage, said this morning that the Martins had been working in the rural area of Zvishavane in Zimbabwe visiting churches to encourage pastors and take church services.

Meanwhile, police are continuing to appeal to the public for any information that might provide clues as to how the fire started.

Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne McCoy, of Nelson, said today they were no further ahead with any solid leads in their investigation, and were relying on the public to come forward with any information that might help them, including people who might have been seen in the area at the time.

He said police and fire investigation officers believed the fire was suspicious for several reasons which he declined to elaborate on, but primarily the garage was not attached to the house and both structures appeared to have "gone up" at the same time.

It appeared there were two separate fires in the house as well as one in the workshop.

Ralph Lonsdale, the Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer, said yesterday both structures were alight independently when fire officers arrived at the scene about 8.40pm on Saturday.

In total six appliances attended the blaze, with fire officers at the scene for about five hours. They were able to save about half of the house, including some recoverable items, though there was some smoke and water damage.

Mr McCoy believed the Martins had owned the house for about eight years, and while it was being lived in while they were away, it was unoccupied at the time of the fire.

People should contact Nelson CIB with any information, he said.

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- The Nelson Mail

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