Pair offer to share hard lesson
Steve Garnett and Tracey Lynch are offering to front a rural fire education campaign - teaching a lesson they have learnt dearly.
The couple have a court order hanging over them to pay more than $1.2 million in firefighting costs after a 2009 fire spread from their rural Glenhope property, destroying a neighbouring forest and home.
In April this year a High Court judge ruled that Mr Garnett, who disposed of ash from a cabin woodburner outside, and the couple's company, Three Tuis, were liable and ordered they pay. The Fire Service Commission and the Waimea Rural Fire Committee are seeking $703,000 and Nelson Forests $550,000.
It is believed to be the first case where rural property owners face losing their property to meet the costs.
Ms Lynch, who works in Nelson, says she gets stopped in the street and asked about their case almost daily.
"We are still half packed to go and still going backwards and forwards between the plaintiffs and ourselves about what result might be reached," she said.
The couple want an end to the continued stress and uncertainty, and as a constructive gesture have written to the Fire Service Commission offering their services.
"I would offer to go to all the rural homes to bring awareness about the need for sufficient rural insurance cover.
"We've offered to be the face for a fire education campaign aimed at rural property owners and dwellers as there's nothing on TV aimed at them.
"We have offered to lobby local councils and government with the idea that rural fire cover be incorporated into rural rates so that there is no doubt about coverage," Ms Lynch said.
Mr Garnett said it made sense and would be of more value to the fire authorities than the amount they would be able to obtain from them.
"It would be of more value to people in rural areas. I would gladly do it," Ms Lynch said.
She spoke with Nelson MP Nick Smith on Saturday. He said today that he was sympathetic to their position. "I do find it astonishing that people who make an honest mistake end up in the financial position of losing everything."
Dr Smith said that as a minister he needed to be careful not to interfere in the court process but he would look at the decision and at what ways he could help, or would look at where legislative reform might help others in that situation.
Fire Service national rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said the process was still in place to enact the court ruling, and he had not seen the letter.
"We just need to allow due process to follow from the court's decision. There's yet to be a final determination on that, whatever that may be," he said.
Other cases where rural firefighting costs have been claimed have settled out of court, but the couple's insurance cover was for just $200,000.
"We just didn't have enough insurance cover. When you talk to a telesales person and they are based in a city and they ask if you want rural fire cover, that's what you get - $200,000," she said.
"I have spoken to some rural property owners who don't have any rural fire insurance. That's why it makes sense for us to tell our story and front these campaigns."
Public support for the couple has seen $12,000 pledged to an online fundraising campaign, a fundraising auction run by Jeff Rackley is to be held in October, and psychologist Nigel Latta will speak on stress and business at a fundraiser later in the year.
The couple want their ordeal to be over by the end of the year. "We would like to start a new year with all this behind us one way or another," Ms Lynch said.
They have sold all their machinery and stock - sheep, deer and longhorn cattle - from their property and Mr Garnett has been simply maintaining the land and clearing a burnt 8 hectares.
Ms Lynch said they would love to give everyone who donates $100 a chance to experience their paradise property, with a one-night stay in their log cabin including breakfast for $50 a couple.
Mr Garnett said the stress had not diminished.
"If anything it has got worse. We are hanging on."
Contributions to help meet the court-ordered firefighting costs can be made to savetripletui.com or the Save Triple Tui account at the Nelson Building Society.
Any amount raised over those costs would be donated to breast cancer research. Ms Lynch's sister died of breast cancer 15 years ago, aged just 39.
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