Pair burned, stranded after van catches fire at Gathering

The Dominion, 3 January 1998

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TWO Aucklanders suffering burns ended up at Motueka police station yesterday morning after their van caught fire at the Gathering New Year dance party in Nelson.

Sergeant Jim Burrows said police found "two bedraggled people" at the front door, 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 they were going to get home. They were being helped by Victim Support yesterday before going 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." Ms Morton had burned her fingers. The other victim, Rene Baker, tried to fight the fire and suffered second-and third-degree burns to his right arm and to his 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. Nearby campers gave first aid to the victims before Red Cross unit members arrived.

The two-day Gathering, which was advertised as alcohol-free, began on New Year's Eve at Canaan Downs on Takaka Hill. Organisers said it was a huge success, despite problems with drugs and alcohol.

Jose Cachemaille, one of the four Nelson organisers, said yesterday that all the networks put in place to deal with problems worked smoothly.

By this morning, eight people had been taken by ambulance to either 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 the woman and her friends told first-aiders they believed someone had spiked her drink. 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.

Organiser Grant Smithies said more people had drugs or alcohol on site this year but there was also twice the number of people than last year. "The security did a great job but people were smuggling booze in soft-drink bottles, which makes it hard to detect." -- NZPA

The Dominion, 3 January 1998

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