Anna Wilkinson watched helplessly as her home and everything she owned ignited.
The single mother-of-three had deja vu when she answered the phone on Saturday night to hear there was a fire at her home in Pines Beach, North Canterbury – it was the second such call she received in less than two years.
The house, where she had raised her three boys, contained 12 years of memories.
With tears streaming down her face, Wilkinson went through what was left of it this week in hopes that she would find something salvageable.
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Wilkinson’s was one of two homes destroyed by Saturday’s fire.
The fire started at his neighbour’s house, the same property where a large brush fire broke out in the backyard in January last year.
Wilkinson said fire investigators told him an electrical fault in the rear bedroom of his neighbour’s property caused the fire, but Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) said on Friday the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
High winds on Saturday night hampered firefighting efforts. They were called back Sunday morning when the fire broke out again at Wilkinson’s property.
On the evening of the fire, Wilkinson had dropped off her three boys, aged 5, 9 and 13, at their father’s house for the night and was at a quiz night with friends when she got the call.
“I thought ‘not yet, how can this happen again’?”
She could see flames ‘twice the size of the house’ when she stopped on the way to her home on Dunns Ave.
“I felt helpless, I watched my house burn down just knowing I was losing everything. I just stood there knowing there was nothing I could do.
“We knew the next door was completely gone, but we couldn’t see my house through the heavy smoke. When we were able to later see up to the house, the damage was clear.
Aside from a few photo albums and notepads, jewelry, and kitchen utensils, Wilkinson now only has the clothes she wore.
Last January’s fire broke out in her neighbour’s garden before spreading to her garden.
He destroyed the chicken coop, the woodshed, and melted the paint from the house and the spout.
After that, Wilkinson moved the photo albums closer to the front door.
The next day she had to tell her boys that their house was gone.
“They’re taking it well so far, but sometimes it’s like when they go to take a shower and they don’t have to change anything that it’s upsetting.”
Although Wilkinson is surrounded by family and friends, she said the fire was difficult to deal with as a single mother.
“Making these big decisions and not being able to discuss them with someone is difficult.”
The community rallied together to set up donations and a Givealittle page to raise money for the family, which Wilkinson was “so grateful for.”
“It’s hard to know what you need until you need it.”
Wilkinson’s home and contents are insured, and she has begun the process of claiming and determining next steps.
“It’s hard to know where to start.”
Fenz Group manager Dave Berry said 11 fire engines were initially called to the house fire at 8.51pm on Saturday.
No one was injured in the fire.
“This is a timely reminder for residents to have an evacuation plan and put it into practice.
“We also recommend photoelectric smoke detectors in all sleeping and living areas to allow for early detection of fires,” Berry said.
Neighbor Catriona Shand said her house, which is next to the house where the fire started, also suffered heat damage, including melted gutters and shattered windows.
She desperately tried to hose down the deck at the back of her property as the fire spread alongside.
The heat was so intense it felt like it could blister the skin on her arms, she said.