The sewing room on the second floor of the house was completely gutted by fire. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Family: ‘We have a home still because of you’

Emily Ireland

A cancelled music practice was a blessing in disguise for the Shivas family in Carterton whose home was almost burned to the ground last Thursday.

Unknown to five family members inside the two-storey house at the time, an uncontrollable blaze was brewing in the sewing room on the second floor, originating from the chimney.

It was only when Steve Shivas came home after his music practice was cancelled that the fire was discovered.

He evacuated the house immediately and called 111.

Steve Shivas and his 10-year-old daughter Sophia standing at the chimney on the first floor. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Seven fire engines and four specialist vehicles attended the blaze, with help coming from as far away as Palmerston North.

Had the fire progressed another 10 minutes, the results could have been “devastating”, Steve said.

Now, Steve and his wife Sandie are urging others to take fire safety seriously, have an evacuation plan, and ensure working fire alarms are placed throughout the home.

It was about “tea time” when Sandie first smelled smoke.

She thought her children were “just doing a less-than-perfect job of cooking tea – they are all very capable”.

Shortly after, Steve arrived home and noticed billowing smoke.

“I stuck my head in the kitchen and said, what’s going on guys?”

His 10-year-old daughter Sophia thought perhaps there was a bird stuck in the chimney which had caused the smoke.

“No one was panicked,” Steve said.

“I raced upstairs at about 6.30pm – we have a chimney going through two floors and it was obvious that the smoke was coming from that chimney.

“At that point Sandie got an electric shock.

“She went to turn the lights off in the bathroom and there was water coming down.

“I automatically put two and two together.

“If there’s water coming down, there must be fire in the house that has melted something … right everybody get out.”

Steve called 111 straight away and grabbed a fire extinguisher before racing back upstairs.

“The smoke was just unbelievable.

“I would say the smoke doubled in intensity every two minutes.

“The first trip up, I got the obvious flames out … the second time I went up after catching my breath, I was throwing up it was that bad.”

At that stage, all the family could do was stand back and wait outside for the firefighters to arrive.

The Shivas family live rurally, on Mangaterere Valley Rd, Carterton, about 8km from town.

As firefighters arrived, backup was called, and before Steve knew it, there were “about 50 firefighters” working to control the fire.

“There weren’t any obvious flames, but with the amount of smoke that was billowing out under the eaves – they called backup straight away.

“I thought they must have been using the fire as an exercise because it’s a big house.

“It’s only when you see inside that you realise, wow, this was a major.”

Two members of the Carterton brigade had to be taken to Wairarapa Hospital to be checked for heat exhaustion but were able to go home the same night.

“From our perspective, high praises to our firefighters,” Steve said.

“They are underrated. They are literally putting their lives on the line, and I don’t think you really get it until you’ve been in this situation.”Sandie agreed.

“We’re feeling blessed and extremely grateful – the firefighters did such a great job containing the fire,” she said.

“They are so well-trained, and the leadership of the fire service in Wairarapa is just incredible.

“We’d like to thank each firefighter and each support person for their decision to care for our communities with the dedication and all the volunteered time that they do.

“We have a home still because of you.

“Thank you.”

The Shivas family were insured, and the cause of the fire seems to have been the 30-year-old, single skinned chimney flue and nearby timbers that had dried over time, Sandie said.

The top floor of the Shivas’ family home and some of the first floor will need to be rebuilt, and the whole house is badly smoke damaged and will be uninhabitable for at least eight months.

The home may be ready to move back into in a year, Sandie said.

As for belongings, the Shivas family were practically left with the clothes on their backs, and some items that were unscathed by the fire and water damage.

A hamper donated to the family containing toothbrushes was a welcome surprise.

“People we don’t even know have been turning up – like, here’s a casserole,” Steve said.

They were very grateful for the outpouring of support from the Wairarapa community.

The Shivas family have also received assistance from Carterton Food Bank, Wai Waste, Keinzley Agvet, and Clareville Bakery.

Sandie wanted to stress that anyone could get in touch with the Masterton fire station to get smoke alarms checked or installed for free.

For older people or anyone who has trouble buying, fitting or checking fire alarms, get in touch with Masterton Fire Service on 06 370 9550.