Flames leapt from the first house set alight in Mauriceville by a woman now detained as a special patient. PHOTO/FILE
Victims put survival down to smoke alarm
HAYLEY GASTMEIER and STEVE RENDLE
A 52-year-old woman has been detained as a special patient after being found to be insane at the time she burnt down a house in Mauriceville, just hours after burning down her own home nearby.
The woman’s name was permanently suppressed in Masterton District Court on Monday, as were the names of the good Samaritans who gave her a bed after her house was burnt to the ground.
The family of three took the woman in after the blaze, only for her to then burn down their house on April 26 last year.
She was charged with arson but found not guilty by reason of insanity earlier this year.
The family lost almost everything in the second fire and say they would not be alive if not for their smoke alarm.
On Monday, one of the victims sat with close friends in court, where details emerged 16 months after the fires.
She said she, her husband, and their 21-year-old daughter, could now move on with their lives.
“I’m really relieved that finally the court case is over – the outcome was not necessarily what I would have liked to have had happen, however, I suppose I feel safe knowing [the woman charged] is in a secure unit and will not be a risk to anybody in the community at this stage.”
The woman’s detention has no fixed term but will continue until the Minister of Health determines she is safe to release.
The victim requested name suppression to reduce the risk of being revictimised in the community, saying the blaze aftermath had been particularly difficult for her daughter.
Her friend, who was present in court, cried as she told the Times-Age that she was expecting to find “three bodies” when she was called to the fire that devastated the two-storey cottage, built more than 100 years ago.
According to the police summary of facts, the woman responsible first burnt boxes, clothing and furniture outside her home in the afternoon, and then went inside around 10pm and dropped a lit match on to paint or flammable solvent on the floor.
She left the house and waited for it to burn.
The Fire Service was called by neighbours about 15 minutes later, but when they arrived shortly after, the house was engulfed to the point it was completely destroyed.
Before the firefighters arrived, the woman went to a neighbouring house to ask for help.
She was given a place to sleep in a sleepout at the rear of that house.
But at about 5.15am, she went to the rear of the main house and lit a fire.
As she was leaving by the front door, one of the occupants heard the chain on the door being unlocked.
Seconds later, the smoke alarm went off, and the victim went to the back of the house to find it well ablaze.
The three occupants left the house, but the woman could not be found.
Police located her on the road north of Mauriceville 90 minutes later.
She denied lighting the fire inside her house, but could give no explanation for the fire at the second home, police said in the summary of facts.
The victim said she had been in the midst of renovations so had taken down the dining room smoke alarm for painting.
Fortunately, a second alarm woke her and her family.
She thanked the community for its support during what had been a difficult time.
“The Mauriceville community, and beyond, have been brilliant, and emergency services as well.
“So many people, even ones that only knew us through others have been incredible.”
Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson and Deputy Mayor Graham McClymont promptly delivered a shipping container to the family’s property so they had storage for their motorbikes and other possessions that were salvaged from the blaze.
Home-cooked meals that were dropped off also got special mention.
“The love that went into them – you just felt nurtured.”
The family were $100,000 underinsured so it will still be a while until they find their feet.