Northland solo dad, eight kids lose everything in house fire

A Northland family is starting 2021 in the worst possible way with their home and all their belongings destroyed in a ferocious house fire.

Ten people — solo dad Tui Strachan, his eight children aged 5 to 21, and one guest — were asleep when the fire started about 5.50am yesterday on Leonard St, off Whitemans Rd in Kawakawa.

First to raise the alarm was Angel Strachan, 19, who smelled smoke when she got up to use the toilet.

She saw smoke coming from the hot water cupboard and woke up her father, who then roused the rest of the family and got them outside.

Tui Strachan then went to the kitchen, where the hot water cylinder was located, and saw the glow even before he opened the door. He threw a bucket of water at the flames but it made no difference.

Moments later smoke was up to his chest and within minutes the entire centre of the house was on fire.

”Then I knew it was all over,” he said.

All he managed to save was a TV. Everything else, including his prized hunting gear, had gone up in smoke. His children had also lost everything – including their Christmas presents – except the clothes they were wearing when they woke up.

He feared for his bull terrier, Storm, who had not been seen since the blaze.

”She’s a part of the family,” he said.

Strachan, a baker, said the house had been a godsend when he bought it in a mortgagee sale 15 years ago. It was uninsured.

His neighbour’s home, which was unoccupied at the time, had also been damaged with one wall and the eaves charred and spouting melted.

The family planned to stay with his parents in Ōhaeawai last night while he worked out what to do next.

He couldn’t go far from the Leonard St property because he had a menagerie of animals, including dogs, cats and pigs, which had to be fed and looked after.

A once-wild pig, now a pet, had given birth to a dozen piglets on the night of the fire.

”God gives you with one hand and takes away with the other. That’s how it’s been this year. It’s been a really hard year with Covid and everything, even before the fire.”

Fire investigator Craig Bain said he had yet to pinpoint the cause but the blaze was not suspicious.

Given the family’s account of events he was concentrating on the area around the fridge and hot water cylinder. An electrical fault was a possibility.

Kawakawa deputy fire chief Alistair Leitch said the main part of the house was ”fully involved” and flames had started spreading next door when the brigade arrived.

Their first priority was saving the neighbouring house, which required them to force entry.

Their efforts were hampered by a lack of pressure in the nearest hydrant. Firefighters set up a portable dam at the top of the street and called on other brigades to help shuttle water from a hydrant on North Rd.

Two appliances and one tanker from Kawakawa were joined by fire trucks from Paihia, Kerikeri and Kaikohe.

Water pressure was restored after the Far North District Council was notified of the problem.

The family may have been alerted earlier if there had been working smoke alarms in the house, Leitch said. ”If you don’t have a working smoke alarm now would be a good time to do it.”

One person was treated at the scene by St John for smoke inhalation but there were no other injuries.

Leitch praised the volunteers who had given up part of their holidays to help their community.

A council spokesman said its contractor, Far North Waters, had found a closed valve restricting water flow to the Whitemans Rd hydrant. The valve had since been opened.

■ A Givealittle page or similar is planned for anyone who wants to help the Strachan family. More details to come.

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