Wardville family loses everything in fire
In a small shed under the Kaimai Range sit a few boxes of toys and clothes covered by a light layer of ash.
It is all that Hemi and Stacey Howard and their three young sons have left.
The family lost everything else after a suspected chimney fire tore through their rented Wardville home on Thursday afternoon.
They had no contents insurance.
"We went through the house [yesterday] morning and there is just nothing left," said Mrs Howard.
"All the clothes are covered in black fire stuff. The fire just ripped through everything."
Volunteer fire services from Matamata and Te Aroha were called to the property on Waghorn Rd, 15km north of Matamata, about 3.15pm.
East Waikato volunteer support officer Peter Baylis said the house was "pretty well on fire" when they arrived.
"Between ourselves [Matamata] and Te Aroha we were able to extinguish it but there was obviously considerable property damage."
Two fire trucks and two water tankers were at the scene, he said.
Mr Howard, a farm manager, had left for work about 20 minutes before the fire broke out. Mrs Howard had taken their boys, aged 3, 6, and 8, to Matamata for a doctor's appointment.
"When I was driving back down my road, a car flashed at me, then I saw the red lights and I knew straight away," said Mrs Howard.
"I started screaming and crying in the car and I rang my husband and said, ‘Our house is on fire.'
"I parked, put the hand brake on, stepped out the door and just collapsed crying. A fireman had to come over and hold me up."
The family had only moved into the five-bedroom house two weeks earlier and had yet to organise insurance.
The fire devastated the living areas, while smoke and water damage throughout the rest of the home meant almost nothing was salvageable.
Wedding photos they had slowly paid off for an entire year. Gone up in flames. Clothes, toys and furniture collected through years as a family. Lost to the smoke.
"You can stand at one end of the house outside and see right through to the other end," said Mrs Howard.
"It's just empty."
Her eight-year-old Rikardo had saved his birthday money for a Lego City set and was "heartbroken" it hadn't survived the fire.
The boys had a few toys left and their bikes that had been on the driveway.
The Salvation Army in Matamata has provided them with a few sets of clothes and they are staying with friends and family until they can find a rental home nearby.
Next time, they would make sure they were covered by contents insurance from day one, said Mrs Howard.
"It's just too much of a risk."