17 Jan 2020

Taupō settlements 'shocked' over fire lit while family slept

9:59 am on 17 January 2020

Residents are shocked and hugely concerned as police investigate four suspected arsons near Lake Taupō, a local woman says.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Police called for witnesses to help in their investigations of the four fires that damaged five properties on Saturday night and Sunday morning - in Tauranga, Taupō, Waitetoko and Hatepe.

There were no injuries or loss of life, but one blaze in Hatepe appeared to have been lit while a family slept inside the house.

Hatepe local Sue Birch said the community was "absolutely shocked", and neighbours had been trying to support the family.

"It's a huge concern - Hatepe is full of holidaymakers at the moment and the whole community is in shock.

"What is really, really concerning is there was a family asleep in the house at the time."

She said she knew the parents of the family and all the locals had been in touch with them to offer support.

"Everybody's virtually spoken to them trying to give them any support ... apparently someone felt the heat - the fire was lit on the deck - and they got up and by the time they opened the doors and so forth it was an inferno, so they were out."

She said neighbours also had to work to keep the fire from spreading.

"They had neighbours both sides, so especially one side they got very involved in trying to save their property too."

Detective Sergeant Andy Livingstone said police believed the fires were connected.

"It's not good for any community let alone these small settlements to have this sort of thing happening.

"People would like to see some resolution and it's not good in these small areas to think that this can happen - and so many in one night as well.

Police have said they wanted to hear from anyone who saw vehicles travelling on and around State Highway 1 in the early hours of Sunday morning, particularly any entering or leaving the three settlements.

"We would especially be keen to hear from anyone with dashcam footage that may have captured vehicle details," Livingstone said.