15 Sep 2014

Overcrowding problem post-quake

8:38 pm on 15 September 2014

A fire investigator says post-quake over-crowding is pushing up the risk of house fires in Canterbury.

The Parklands house where Corey James died.

The Parklands house where Corey James died. Photo: RNZ / Nicola Grigg

Corey James McLean, who was 16, was killed saving his pregnant friend from the burning house in suburban Parklands.

He had been taken in by tenant Wendy Marsh, who neighbours said often took in young people with nowhere else to go and was one of eight people living in the state house at the time.

Fire investigator Shane O'Brien said the investigation had found the cause of the blaze was accidental.

He said he could not comment any further because the matter was before the Coroner.

However, Mr O'Brien said Corey McLean's death was a tragic reminder for tenants to have an emergency escape plan, especially in Christchurch, where the housing shortage was creating over-crowding issues.

He said where a lot of people were living in a small space, it took longer to evacuate a house and more people meant more contents, which increased fire risk.

Tenant told of overcrowding

Wendy Marsh who lost her home in the fire was warned just a few weeks ago about having too many people living there, Housing New Zealand says.

Corey James McLean, who was 16, was killed saving his pregnant friend from the burning house in suburban Parklands.

Corey McLean who died in the fire had been taken in by Wendy Marsh who was a tenant in the state house. Neighbours said she often took in young people with nowhere else to go.

Housing New Zealand spokesperson Simon Leggett said it was made aware of overcrowding at the house on 9 September, and issued a warning.

"We visited the property and had a conversation with all the occupants that were there advising them that it was in breach of their tenancy to have this many people living at the property and we followed that up with a formal warning, as well."

The extra people staying were advised to apply to Work and Income for accommodation of their own, Mr Leggett said.

Help is being provided to the survivors of the fire, including Ms Marsh and her three children.

The fire has raised questions about how and why Corey had ended up without a home of his own.

Julie Stechman who is organising the drive for food, clothes and furniture.

Julie Stechman who is organising the drive for food, clothes and furniture. Photo: RNZ / Nicola Grigg

Neighbour Julie Stechmann lives just down the road from 9 Medina Place, the state house which now stands charred and gutted after Saturday night's fatal fire.

She said she woke up to screaming and loud bangs at 4am.

Since then, she has started a Facebook drive to gather together everything the family needs to replace what has been lost.

"I've been amazed at the response. Food, clothing, shoes, bedding, even toiletries, all the immediate stuff. There's even been offers for furniture but until they have a house we can't really take furniture. Hopefully that'll get sorted this week and then we can go from there".

Ms Stechmann said Corey was one of a number of teens Ms Marsh had taken in over the years to help out.

"You could say street kids is the name for it but, basically, the ones that slip through the cracks and, instead of them just being on the streets and things like that she'd like them to have food and a roof over their head where she could help them. She's a good person".

Labour MP Poto Williams visited the street on Sunday to make sure all resources were being made available to help Ms Marsh and her three children.

She said that while now was not the time to politicise the issue, more needed to be done to make safe housing available for young people.

"The fact that we have these transient populations is really troubling. I know that doesn't build strong communities. Strong communities come from people actually being able to put down roots and get some security in their lives. But I really thank Wendy for what she has been trying to do to just make sure that young people do have a roof over their head".

Parklands fire

Photo: RNZ / Nicola Grigg

Meanwhile, friends of the teens who lived in the house are remembering Corey as a hero.

Taylor McConchie said he would be missed on the street.

"He seemed nice, he was sort of one of the street kids that she'd taken in. Wendy has always been nice, she's always helped out other people, sometimes she'd even put them before herself."

The Fire Service said it was yet to determine the cause of the fire and Corey's death had been referred to the coroner.

The other seven occupants of the house have been discharged from hospital after being treated for smoke inhalation and are staying in a motel in the city until Housing New Zealand finds a new place for them to call home.

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