Man escapes Kennington fire
A former Invercargill mayoral candidate living rough survived a fire that ripped through the place he called home in Kennington on the outskirts of the city.
Several residents identified the man as James "Jim" Stapleforth and said he ran for mayor of Invercargill in 1998.
Records show Mr Stapleforth finished last in the 1998 local elections with 120 votes, well behind Tim Shadbolt, who collected 13,805 votes.
Kennington Rd resident Willie Fraser said Mr Stapleton would have died in the fire if he had not made it out before flames took hold of the old building yesterday.
"He told us he had just put some hot ashes outside then went back inside when everything went dark," Mr Fraser said.
Michael Grantham, another Kennington Rd resident, called 111 after he noticed thick smoke and went to investigate.
It was a relief to see Mr Stapleforth was out of the building but his hair was singed, he said.
One neighbour told The Southland Times Mr Stapleforth had lived there for at least 16 years but stayed there only two or three times a week.
She understood the building had a shower but no electricity or running water and said it was full of books and newspapers.
Mr Stapleforth was well known for riding his bicycle around town and out to Kennington with a big sack on the front, the neighbour said.
After talking to the residents and then firefighters, Mr Stapleforth was taken to Southland Hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Stapleforth told The Southland Times through a medical ward nurse at the hospital he was "comfortable", but declined to comment further.
Fire crews from Invercargill and Wallacetown were called to Kennington Rd at 8.20am.
Invercargill senior station officer Peter Thwaites said the fire could be seen from Invercargill.
When crews arrived they were confronted by flames and plenty of smoke, he said.
Fire crews contained the fire but could not save the old wood and corrugated iron building.
The initial reports received from a resident on Kennington Rd, who called in the fire, said a man stayed in the old store on occasion and was believed to be staying in it when fire engulfed the building, Mr Thwaites said.
When fire crews arrived, they checked to make sure no-one was in the building, he said.
Southern Fire Region fire investigator Mike Cahill said there was no power to the old building but the fire was not being treated as suspicious.
The building had a lot of holes with air moving through the building to help the fire burn and a huge stockpile of old books provided fuel for the fire, Mr Cahill said.
He still had to talk to Mr Stapleforth about how the fire started, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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