Two burnt in van fire

Christchurch Press, 3 January 1998

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NELSON -- Two burnt Aucklanders ended up at Motueka police station wondering how to get home after their van caught fire at the Gathering dance party at remote Canaan Downs on Takaka Hill.

Sergeant Jim Burrows said police found "two bedraggled people" at the front door yesterday, where the ambulance had left them after they had been treated by a doctor for burns. He said they had lost most of their possessions when their van caught fire and were wondering how to get home. They were being helped by Victim Support before heading to hospital for further treatment.

One of the victims, Kerry Morton, said a candle had caused the fire. "I just woke up and saw the flames, I reached up to try and put it out but couldn't. We must have gone to sleep with the candle still going," she said.

Ms Morton had burns to her fingers. The other victim, Rene Baker, tried to fight the blaze and suffered second and third-degree burns to his right arm and face. His hair was singed. Firefighters were on the scene within minutes and put out the fire with a powder extinguisher. The van was surrounded by tents, and nearby campers started giving first aid to the victims before Red Cross unit members arrived.

The two-day dance party wound up yesterday with organisers describing it as a huge success despite problems with drugs and alcohol. About 1000 of the 8000 party-goers who had come from all around New Zealand and from overseas left on Thursday and others were packing up yesterday.

Jose Cachemaille, one of the four Nelson organisers, said all the networks put in place to deal with problems worked smoothly. "It's just been totally awesome, really fantastic," she said.

Red Cross unit leader Mike Price said he was reasonable happy with people's behaviour. Eight people had been taken by ambulance to either the Motueka Medical Centre or Nelson Hospital for treatment.

One woman was taken to Nelson Hospital on Thursday night after overdosing on drugs. Mr Price said she and her friends told first-aiders they believed someone had spiked her drink. She was stabilised by the time she got the Nelson Hospital, he said.

A nine-year-old boy was accidentally pushed into a fire on Thursday and suffered second and third-degree burns to his feet. He was taken to Nelson Hospital. The boy's father was with him and was very upset about the incident, Mr Price said.

Organiser Grant Smithies said there were more people with drugs or alcohol on site this year but there was also twice as many people as last year. The party was advertised as alcohol-free. "The security did a great job but people were smuggling booze in soft-drink bottles, which makes it hard to detect," he said. "But we had none of the usual New Year alcohol dramas like fights and aggression." --NZPA

Christchurch Press, 3 January 1998

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