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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Shaken and stirred: Village evacuated

A battery-induced blaze forced an early morning evacuation of elderly residents at Panama Village yesterday.

Emergency services were called to a large structure fire at the Masterton council-owned village shortly before 8am. Masterton and Carterton fire brigades responded to the fire in the custodian’s garage, which was described as “well-involved”.

Police and fire investigators subsequently carried out a scene examination.

Masterton District Council said it understood a combusted lithium battery sparked the blaze. There were no reports of injuries, but the caretaker was said to be ‘gutted’ by the incident.

Village resident Kris said he and a neighbour saw smoke billowing from the garage and called 111.

“It was full-on. Before the fire brigade got here, we were really freaking out, thinking: ‘Is it going to jump? Is it going to explode?’”

He said the garage was within metres of one of the flats whose elderly resident was still inside.

“His house is so close, and he was still asleep. I had to go and get him out of bed and outside. “His window was open as well, and smoke was going in.”

Kris said he and the residents looked on in shock as the brigades tackled the fire and attempts were made to alert the caretaker, who had just left the premises.

Aside from a single explosion, he said the blaze was “absolutely silent”.

“There was one loud explosion, so we pulled everybody back.

“It’s absolutely chocka in there. Heaps and heaps of wooden furniture.

“He [the caretaker] gets old furniture and does it up.

“He is pretty gutted.

“If it happened during the night, it could have been really scary. Once the fire got out, that would have been it.”

Masterton fire station officer Garry Nielsen said the fire was well-involved when the crew arrived.

“We don’t know where the fire is until we get inside. Smoke was coming out all around the building.”

He said the brigades extinguished the fire in about half an hour, and despite some significant damage to the items inside, the building itself was fairly sound.

“Structurally, it’s not too bad.

“It was a storage shed, a caretaker’s shed, so there were a few chemicals inside, so we decontaminated our guys as a precaution.”

Nielson said lithium-ion batteries on charge or damaged contained a lot of energy.

“So if they malfunction, that is released in heat, and it can set fire to combustibles that are nearby.

“It’s a good reminder to always be careful about the time you choose to charge batteries, and smoke alarms are a backup for that early warning if something goes wrong.”

A police spokesperson said police were called to the scene by Fire and Emergency and were assessing whether further police involvement was required.

Masterton District Council manager of community facilities and amenities Corin Haines confirmed no further structures suffered damage in the blaze.

Haines said he had spoken with the custodian and that the next step was to update the residents of the 44 units.

“We will let them know what happened, and that happily, no person or other properties were affected or at risk due to the fire.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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