Overloaded multibox sparks fire

Left with little more than the clothes he's wearing

SUSAN STRONGMAN
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2014
James Hartwell
CHARLOTTE CURD/ Fairfax NZ

CHARRED REMAINS: James Hartwell, 22, holds one of the few items that he could salvage after his Eltham flat caught fire on Thursday night. He was left with little more than the clothes he was wearing.

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A 22-year-old man is feeling lucky after an overloaded multibox caused his Eltham home to be gutted by fire.

Eltham, Hawera, Stratford, New Plymouth and Kaponga all sent fire engines to battle a blaze at James Hartwell's flat on Bridge St about 7.30pm on Thursday.

The fire is thought to have started in the multibox while he was having dinner in Stratford.

Two charred loaves of bread sat on the kitchen bench and a melted tap washer had allowed water to flow overnight, flooding the kitchen. The commercial building had been converted into a flat, and Hartwell had been living there for just two months when the fire happened.

Though he was left with little more than the clothes he was wearing, Hartwell was in good spirits yesterday.

"There's not much point in getting upset," he said.

"What's done is done, and I can't fix it," he said, as he sorted through his belongings.

The flat was Hartwell's first abode away from home and his biggest concern was his family photos, which he found relatively undamaged among a pile of wet cardboard boxes.

Hartwell's sister, Natasha, who was visiting from Tauranga at the time, said she was at their father's house about four doors down the road when they realised the building was on fire.

Her initial concern was for her brother's safety, and she was relieved to find he was in Stratford at the time.

"He's been through a lot, so it was about time he got some good luck, but then this happened," she said.

The main things her brother needed now were clothes, she said.

Eltham chief fire officer David Waite said although the flat had smoke alarms, they were not connected. A concrete wall protected the neighbouring property, but firefighters were still concerned the fire would spread, and fought the blaze until about 12.30am on Friday, he said.

New Plymouth fire safety officer Matt Crabtree said the fire was most likely to have been caused by an overloaded electrical multibox.

"Excessive electrical items were plugged into the multibox and were all going," he said.

People needed to be careful not to overload multi-socket boxes, and to ensure they were unplugged when not in use.

The building was formerly Harris Electrical, Waite said.

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