Bob loses everything but his life

TERESA HATTAN
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
Moorfield Rd propert
TERESA HATTAN/FAIRFAX NZ

BURNING INFERNO: The Moorfield Rd property burnt to the ground on the morning of December 28

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A fire that destroyed a 101-year-old man's home and possesions was ignited by a linseed oil-soaked rag, it has emerged.

Te Kauwhata man Robert Moorfield, known to everyone in his community as Bob, was lucky to escape with his life when he woke around 7.30am on the morning of the fire and smelt smoke.

What transpired next left Bob with just the clothes on his back and the charred remains of more than 100 years of life.

The fire started from old rags used to polish wood with linseed oil. The rags had been left in the laundry on December 28 and ignited once they got warm from the sunlight coming in the window of the Moorfield Rd house.

"People need to know about the dangers of linseed oil," Bob's son Warren said. Warren, along with a number of family members, is in the village's volunteer fire brigade.

"The fire safety chap said heaps of fires are caused by this stuff," he said.

Warren said it was frightening to have his father turn up on his doorstep telling him about the fire.

"He said the house is on fire, call the fire brigade. Here was me thinking it's just a little wee fire. I couldn't see the house from our place so I took my mobile phone and as I was running along the road I rung back and said it was a K99, which is the worst fire you can have, send Huntly as well.

"The windows started exploding and once the air gets in, it's away. It's lucky he was awake because when you're asleep you don't smell smoke. Half an hour earlier and he wouldn't have got out."

Bob had lived in the property by himself and is still mobile. He drives, cooks and even mows his own lawn and does the garden.

A former winemaker, he has been involved in just about every community group and committee in Te Kauwhata including St John, the church and Scouts.

"In a small community everyone jumps in and starts these things," he said.

Bob moved to the small north Waikato town in 1919 when he was a small child.

"I think I've been here longer than anyone else I know of.

"There was only 300 people here when I came to Te Kauwhata, of course everybody knew everyone else and everyone else's business. Now there's around 1200 people. You go down to town and you don't know anyone."

Warren, who lives a few doors away, said his father had lived in the property for 21 years.

Despite the fire, Bob said he wanted to continue to live on Moorfield Rd but was currently living with neighbour Jan Sedgwick. Plans are already in place to re-build on the same land.

Bob wanted to thank the community and the Te Kauwhata and Huntly Volunteer Fire Brigades for what they had done for him by way of donations of food and support.

"The neighbours gathered around and helped me, the people next door have been very good allowing me to use this flat, otherwise I would've had to buy a tent."

The house is insured, but wouldn't cover the large amount of antiques and valuables Bob had in his home.

"Nobody ever thinks they're going to lose everything," Warren said.

One of these prized possessions to burn in the blaze was a grandfather clock that had been in the family for more than 100 years.

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The clock was built around 1750 by Peter Fearnley, who also made the town clock for Wigan in England.

Mr Moorfield's grandfather emigrated to Christchurch and on the way, the boat shipwrecked on the coast of Cape Town.

The clocked survived this, and was valued at $20,000, but could not survive the vicious blaze last month.

Bob has also lost the messages he got from the Queen, the Prime Minister and the mayor on his 100th birthday and his war medals.

He also had a new car that was just a bit over a year old that was destroyed, but he knows the most valuable thing was saved that day.

"If your house catches fire, get out. Don't worry about saving Grandma's precious jug. Your life is more important," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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