It’s one of those phone calls no one ever wants – that one in the middle of the night that, within moments, changes your life forever.
Ongaonga residents Leigh and Martin Gillard received such a phone call about midnight on Monday this week, to tell them their house had burnt down, destroying everything in it.
The Gillards were holidaying in Waihi and were just heading to bed when the first call came from a nearby resident to tell them there had been a fire at their house. Another followed from the police to confirm the devastating news, Mrs Gillard said.
“The police said ‘we’re afraid you have lost everything’ – Martin and I just looked at each other in stunned disbelief.”
Unable to sleep, the pair decided to make the journey home at about 2am, not even able to imagine what they would find upon their arrival.
Ongaonga fire brigade chief fire officer Tom Taylor said that when the brigade was alerted at 11.10pm, the house was fully involved. Others Mrs Gillard had spoken to described it as an inferno, with flames shooting into the sky through the roof.
Mr Taylor said the Ongaonga brigade was joined by others from Tikokino, Waipawa and Ashley Clinton and tankers from Hastings, Tikokino and Otane were brought in. With the support of relief crews, they fought the fire through the night until satisfied it was out at 7am on Tuesday.
“There were a couple of vintage cars that we protected but other than that we could not save much of the house.”
Mrs Gillard said the heat was such that feijoas on trees near the house were baked in their skins and towering walnut trees at the back of the property were singed right up to their top leaves.
The couple’s house was part of Ongaonga’s history, built by the Cole brothers, its foundation stone laid on August 15, 1911. That stone, with the date etched in it, came out almost untouched.
The fact the couple lived in such a historic house was fitting, as both are avid collectors of things vintage and Art Deco. They are long-time participants in Napier’s Art Deco Weekend.
Unique Art Deco clothing, jewellery and shoes, Victorian blouses, Edwardian bags antique furniture – all collected or gifted to them over many years – are all gone.
One charred army tin containing some items of gold jewellery, including Mrs Gillard’s late mother’s watch, are all that remain.
With the couple getting older, it was unlikely they would attempt to follow their collecting passion in the future, Mrs Gillard said.
“I don’t think I will collect anything again – from now on I am collecting memories.”
It was not the first time the pair had experienced such loss.
They moved to Hawke’s Bay in the mid-2000s because they lost all their possessions when they were living in Waihi and their house was consumed by floodwaters.
Some solace was to be had, however, from their extensive network of friends around the globe who, within a day, had started gifting them money while they awaited their insurance claim.
They had also been offered accommodation in Napier for the next few weeks.
Mrs Gillard said the event was different from the flooding: this was final.
The house would be razed and the final closure would come when they found out how the fire started.
Mr Taylor said fire investigators were still working to determine the cause.