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Fire victims helped

Wendy Gilbert, with her grandson Akuira Gilbert-Richards, 6, Te Awhina Community House Coordinator Donna Gray (left), and good Samaritan Jim Birchall, who donated whiteware appliances. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER


By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

As smoke filled her Masterton home, Wendy Gilbert dashed back inside to retrieve the only photograph she had of her late husband.

In hindsight, that was not the best move, she said last week, but at the time it seemed like the only thing to do as she watched a fire destroy her Cameron Crescent home last Wednesday morning.

Now the tight-knit community is rallying to do what they can to help Ms Gilbert get back on her feet — and the effort has left her speechless.

“I’m overwhelmed by all this,” she said while staring at a garage full of donations, “it makes me cry. . .”

The fire had started in a shed at the back of her house, sometime before 6am.

She had been asleep inside, along with her 32-year-old son and his partner, and her three young children.

With the absence of a smoke alarm, the family owe their lucky escape from the blaze to their neighbours.

Greg and Rowena Harris had been up early tending to an ill family member.

They spotted the blazing flames at Ms Gilbert’s property and scrambled next to door wake the family up.

Ms Gilbert said she was indebted to the Harrises for their quick actions. She had neither heard nor smelt anything from the fire.

She thanked the Fire Service, making special mention of Masterton fire station officer Doug Flowerday, and Wairarapa police for their prompt service and support.

Ms Gilbert had bought her Cameron Crescent home 23 years ago, just months before her husband of 17 years died.

Her mortgage was set to be paid off next year.

Although she had home insurance, she did not have contents insurance.

Yesterday, she stood with good friend Donna Gray at Te Awhina Cameron Community House, sighing in disbelief at a mountain of donated house-hold items.

Ms Gray, Te Awhina Cameron Community House co-ordinator, said everyone from “The Block had pulled together” to help Ms Gilbert, who had helped many others over the years.

A rousie for 25-odd years, Ms Gilbert has had a career as a caregiver since, and has tended to many of her family members and friends going through hard times.

One man who stopped in at the community house last week and asked not to be named, said Ms Gilbert had been incredible while supporting his partner through cancer treatment.

“My honey’s doing really good and her spirits have been lifted because of the help of Wendy,” he said.

Ms Gray said her friend of many years was “normally the giver” and it was time the tables were turned.

So far, Ms Gilbert has been gifted double beds, a table with chairs, a fridge-freezer, a washing machine, a set of drawers, clothing, linin, and kitchenware.

“I’m overwhelmed with the kindness,” she said.

“My heart goes out to everyone on The Block, but most of all to my heroes Rowena and Greg.”

An investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing, but police say the blaze is not thought to be suspicious at this stage.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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