Spontaneous Combustion Sparks House Fire

In my journey to learn more about heating I have discovered many things. This story has to be the strangest and the saddest – Luckily no one was injured.  If you are thinking of installing a logburner and fireplace please ensure it is installed by a certified installer and that you service it regularly.

A fire that ravaged a Waitomo family’s home leaving them with almost nothing was sparked by a phenomenon known as pyrophoric action.

And fire investigators say many Kiwis may be unaware of the risk.

In the last five years it has sparked 46 structure fires nationwide in the last five years.


The fire broke out in the ceiling space of the three bedroom home in Waitomo at 9am on Monday.

About 9am on Monday a resident at the isolated rural hilltop home, about 20 kilometres from the Waitomo Caves, was in the kitchen when one of the overhead lights exploded.

She was puzzled, and reached up to touch the ceiling. It was burning hot, specialist fire investigator Kevin Holmes said.

Firefighters from Te Kuiti and Otorohanga attend to the blaze at the house in rural Mahoe Rd.

“There was a shower of sparks between the light fitting and the ceiling – and it wasn’t from the bulb so she thought it might have been electrical,” Holmes said.

“The fire was obviously well established in the ceiling of the house and it has blown the electricity.”

Next minute, smoke was pouring from beneath the eaves of the 153sqm house.

The house was on the top of a hill in the rural outskirts of Waitomo.

Holmes said the woman grabbed her niece and fled the house.

“Just after he arrived back the ceiling collapsed into the lounge and dining area, and the fire took hold.

What was left of the family's home.


A woman, speaking on behalf of the Osborne family, said the fireplace was cleaned regularly. The flue was last cleared five months ago.

The house was fitted with working smoke alarms and had two fire extinguishers, but it took about 30 minutes for the nearest firefighters to arrive.

They were covered by insurance, she said, but felt for the family with young children who were trying to deal with losing everything.

The woman, on behalf the Osborne family, wanted to thank the local Otorohanga and Te Kuiti fire brigades for their efforts.

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