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by Claire Allison

South Canterbury people will have a rare opportunity on Saturday to see inside a house extensively damaged by fire.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) is opening up 277 Wai-Iti Rd to the public from 10am to show how much damage fire can cause in a short time.

The Housing New Zealand property was the scene of a house fire on July 5, caused by a pot of oil left heating on a stove.

The occupants were home, but working smoke alarms gave enough warning for the family to leave the house safely. However they lost almost everything they owned due to fire and smoke damage.

Fire risk management officer Craig Chambers said similar fires usually caused too much damage for it to be safe to take people in.

The difference a closed door can make. Photograph of Wai-iti Rd housefire, showing one bedroom extensively damaged, the other not, because the door was closed.

“We’ve been lucky enough, working with Housing New Zealand, to be able to secure it and make it safe enough to give people the benefit of coming in and seeing what can happen.”

Mr Chambers said the occupants estimated it was less than 10 minutes from when the pot was left on the stove to when fire took hold.

Fenz data showed it took five minutes and 33 seconds from the 111 call to the brigade’s arrival at the scene. Water was then applied within two minutes.

“So, all up, it’s probably less than 10 minutes to cause the damage that people will see on Saturday.”

Mr Chambers said that apart from some clean-up of debris to ensure the house was safe to walk through, and the removal of personal effects, the property would be mostly as it was immediately following the fire.

“We talk about it a lot, but in the big scheme of things, people don’t have this happen to them on a regular basis, so it’s a way to show them that when it does happen, it can have disastrous effects.”

The house illustrated the benefit of doors being closed to restrict the spread of fire – rooms with closed doors had little to no damage.

“It’s a good illustration of how much impact that can have. If doors are closed, it stops the spread of fire and the damage caused by fire and smoke.

“People don’t realise, having a smoke-logged home you can’t just wipe down the walls. It gets into everything.”

Aftermath of a house fire, showing heat and smoke damage in a bedroom.

Fire crews at the house on Saturday would be there to spread fire safety messages and explain to people what they were seeing.

National statistics show 80% of house fires Fenz attend do not have working smoke alarms.

“We recommend long-life smoke alarms in hallways, living areas and bedrooms to give the occupants the early warning they need to get out of the house, using their escape plan, and assemble at their safe meeting place.”

Mr Chambers said he did not know how many might turn up on Saturday, but hoped people would take the opportunity.

“It’s not something we do very often. People see houses on fire and flames coming out of them, but they don’t see what it looks like afterwards.”

Mr Chambers said he hoped those who visited would come away with the messages to “keep looking while you’re cooking,” to ensure their smoke alarms were working and that they had an escape plan in place.

“If people can see this, and know that they don’t want it to happen to them, they might take that extra step and do a little more preparation.”