Ruby Debs Oakley bought her first house in NZ in October and spent seven months renovating it herself. It is now a write-off after a fire started by a tumble dryer.
Ruby Debs Oakley had just completed extensive renovation work on her new home.
Just 48 hours later, she was picking through the charred remains after a fire ripped through the Christchurch villa.
The culprit – a tumble dryer recalled in the UK – still sat in the middle of what is left of the kitchen completed less than a week before the fire on June 1.
“It’s beyond words,” Oakley said.
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She struggled to take in the sight a month later, while the heavy stench of burnt wood still lingered.
Oakley, who is self-employed with a background in design, was working in Blenheim when her housemate called to say the house was on fire.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, after a weekend of heavy rain and flooding that devastated parts of Canterbury. Oakley hardly used a tumble dryer, but after days of continuous rain, it was put into use.
Her housemate had put on the fourth load to go through the secondhand Hotpoint TCM580P condenser tumble dryer, and left for a walk.
When she returned, towels in the dryer were on fire.
Panicked, she called the fire brigade and could only watch as the blaze quickly spread across the kitchen.
A Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokesman said three crews responded at 12.40pm and the fire was extinguished about an hour later.
Oakley was devastated to see the state of her first bought home in New Zealand – 13 years after she moved from the UK.
“It was more or less finished. I’d spent so much time, so much money, and so much work put into making this house beautiful, and then it’s all gone.”
Oakley bought the 1910 weatherboard house in October last year. She previously renovated two houses in the UK, with the help of her dad, who is a carpenter.
She was living in her house truck before, while she saved up to buy a house and decided to dedicate time to renovating the old villa in Waltham.
She spent seven months and about $50,000 on renovation work, including buying second-hand furniture, new wallpaper, a newly fitted fireplace, shower and kitchen.
Her plan had been to work on the garden over winter and create her own showcase house and garden to pursue interior design work.
“It was my showcase … and my new business.”
Finished renovated parts of her house had already brought her a client, but it was “going to have to take a backburner”, Oakley said.
She moved back into her house truck with her three dogs, who were with her at the time of the blaze.
Oakley had some insurance cover but was told repairing the house was not a possibility as it would cost more than she was covered for.
Demolishing the house and rebuilding, was her only other option – a task that felt “really scary”.
Asbestos had also been found in the tiles of the roof.
AA Insurance operations manager Simon Hobbs said supply shortages due to Covid-19 had increased certain building material costs shipped to New Zealand.
However, all customers had full replacement cover if damage was caused by an event other than natural disaster, even if it cost more than their sum insured.
He recommended using online calculators or to contract a building expert to determine the sum insured and to update it when receiving an insurance renewal notice if any changes had been made.
Oakley said she had taken AA Insurance’s advice.
“You think well it’s never going to happen anyway, it’s just a kind of formality.”
With no contents insurance, it felt like she had lost “nearly everything”. Her sister in Australia has set up a Givealittle page.
“Until something happens to you, you don’t really realise what’s involved,” Oakley said.
Although only part of her house caught fire, the front of the house had suffered smoke and water damage.
Since the incident, Oakley warned her friends and family to have a plan in case of a fire and being conscious of their insurance cover.
But one of her biggest concerns was the tumble dryer, which had been recalled overseas. She had especially taken care to empty the lint draw, which she knew was a fire hazard.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment consumer protection manager Mark Hollingsworth said there was no evidence or reports the model of tumble dryer had been supplied to the New Zealand market.
“If it was supplied, the importer would be responsible for addressing any product safety risks accordingly and contacting MBIE to initiate a voluntary recall,” he said.