Family fears next arson may be fatal
Publication date: 2001-01-31
THE devastated family of a retired New Plymouth woman whose home was almost gutted by fire fear someone may die if a spate of arsons around the city continue.
The family of Brenda Maxwell (75) -- who had lived in her Carrington Rd home for almost 30 years -- believe last Tuesday's fire was deliberately lit.
A fire inspector told them this week the fire, which destroyed part of the house and caused severe smoke damage to the rest, started in a pile of papers stacked up in the middle of a bedroom floor.
Mrs Maxwell's son Wyn said the person who lit the fire was probably laughing their head off. "They are going to get off scot-free -- they might get a financial slap on the hand, if they are ever caught."
Her daughter, Marion Bratt, who has flown home from Australia, told of the toll the fire had taken.
"I walked back in here this morning by myself and I felt scared.
"I was worried that someone was inside. I felt sick, my stomach was churning, my heart was racing. I couldn't go inside for 10 minutes."
Tears welled up as she talked, but she could not wipe them away because her hands were covered in soot.
For seven days the family have been cleaning up the mess, shovelling ash, salvaging what they could.
Mr Maxwell said it would cost about $20,000-$30,000 to make the house habitable again.
But since the fire the family has had a second blow. Their mother has found out that although the contents were covered, she does not have any house insurance.
She thought payments she had made were for the house, but it turned out they were not.
Mrs Bratt said she was extremely angry. "My mother doesn't deserve this -- this has taken away everything that is dear to her."
She wanted people to know about the personal toll a fire like this had taken.
"I want people to understand how bloody awful it is. It's the aftermath -- that's what I want to get across -- someone has violated the security of her house."
The family also wants whoever lit the fire to know about the after-effects.
"I want them to see what they have done to my family -- the pain, and the smell, it gets in your skin, your hair."
But Mrs Bratt could not get over how positive her mother was about it all. Her philosophy was: "What happened is just another curve in life."
"She has faced numerous tragedies in her life, and this is what they have left her with."
Her mother was a proud, caring person, that had given much to the community, she said.
She baked bread for people, spun wool for others, belongs to the local Womens' Division, repertory, and is a member of the Baha'i Faith management committe.
Lost in the fire were archives of the local Baha'i group.
"She had always given. She's never asked for help in her life, she's never been on social welfare or asked for help on the rates. We never ask for help, but this is too big for us.
"This has hurt us all. We are not finanically strong, we are all struggling, we are just an average family.
"I would like the community to help my mum -- an iron, a baking tin, something that will help.
"I want my mother to have a house to move back to, to be surrounded by her own things, her cat -- God knows where her cat is," said Mrs Bratt.
"I can't see how we can rebuild her home. How is it going to happen?"
Police and the Fire Service were investigating the fire and two other fires in the area recently.
Before Christmas, while Mrs Maxwell was away, an old caravan on the property was destroyed in a fire.
There had also been another, the cause of which had not been determined, where some scrub was burnt on Baker Rd in the last few months.
New Plymouth Fire Brigade fire safety officer Peter Gallagher said the cause of the Carrington Rd fire was undetermined at this stage, but it leant towards the deliberately lit end of the scale.
But because of the extent of the damage it would be difficult to find the cause, he said.
It was not believed the fire was connected to 20 other deliberately lit fires around New Plymouth since December, said Mr Gallagher.
"They have a different hallmark."
Mr Maxwell said that what irked him was that someone in the community must know something about who was behind the fire.
"If it's part of the arson group, this community needs to do something -- next time they are going to kill someone."
Mr Maxwell's wife, Anne, worried what would have happened if her mother-in-law, who lived alone, had not been out visiting a friend when the fire occurred.
The family were so grateful the firefighters stopped the flames from completely destroying the house.
"They have done a fantastic job," said Mr Maxwell.
©Copyright 2001, Daily News