Hope rises from the ashes


Demolition of two Queenstown houses destroyed by fire begins this week after their owner found a route out of financial ruin.

Iain Ballantyne, 60, says he felt suicidal after his neighbouring Fernhill properties were burned beyond repair on the last day of May.

He was renting out both houses on the site while working in Australia.

They were engulfed in a ferocious fire after a tenant left hot embers from a wood burner in a bucket on the deck.

No one was injured. Ballantyne was under-insured - only $397,000 on properties worth more than double that.

He believed he’d be unable to pay off the remaining $500,000 mortgage.

“My insurance paid out for contents, as well as the $397,000 and even a couple of grand for stress, so I ended up being able to pay off the loan.”

He can also afford the $20,000 to clear the Aspen Grove site and put it on the market, a job he was originally told could cost $100,000.

And he hopes to claim on his tenant Cameron Mewburn’s insurance to get one house rebuilt.

“Cameron had contents insurance with a $1 million liability clause. That may be a lifeline. I’ve had to get a lawyer involved to put a claim against his insurance.

“It’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel but they won’t want to pay it out.”

Ballantyne says he’s spoken to lawyers who say Mewburn leaving the bucket of embers on the deck amounts to negligence.

“I’d be happy with just my own house back and nothing next door.

“At least I own the land, it’s there, so I can always sell the section which is unit-titled.”

Ballantyne encourages homeowners to check their cover is accurate on website need2know.org.nz

Mewburn, who was out when the fire caught hold, was unavailable for comment.

Pam Hills, 46, escaped from one of Iain Ballantyne’s houses with daughter Mia, 5, before the fire spread from the other.

She says: “We’re back on our feet now.

“Everyone’s lifted us up, we’ve been so well looked after, especially by Iain’s ex-wife Sandy who gave us somewhere to live.

“Mia’s still a bit nervous at night time but school has really helped and she’s a strong wee cookie.”

The Salvation Army, Queenstown Primary School and the Japanese community all raised funds for the nine people affected.