A winter’s night in July 2023 became a memorable one for Michelle and Rogan Borrie after receiving a call to say one of their farmhouses had caught on fire. Their first response was to ask if everyone had got out ok (thankfully yes) and was then followed by an investigation into the fire and a sizeable insurance claim.

The house in Papakaio, just north of Oamaru had been tenanted by farmworkers for the Borries sharemilkers. Fire investigators quickly found the source of the fire in the laundry with a tumble dryer to blame for the damage to the house which was now beyond repair.

In terms of their insurance claim, the Borries had the house covered and the claim was settled. But Michelle said there was plenty learnt along the way and things she was keen to share with others, particularly the source of the fire and the use of smoke alarms.

The fire investigation found that the fire had begun as a result of lint build up in the dryer’s filter. Further inquiry found that in the 18 months the tenants had been living in the house, the lint filter had never been emptied with the tenants unaware it was necessary for the safe functioning of the dryer.

“It is such an easy little task – but if you are not aware of it then why would you be emptying it.”

“We have a few houses on our farm that are rented out and one of our best investments is an annual fire safety check that we contract someone in for. They come and make sure that the smoke alarms are fitted and working and that the fire extinguishers are ready to go. For us that investment really paid off the night of the fire. The smoke alarms woke up the household and they were able to get out of the building before things really went wrong.”

“Thankfully they were able to get another place to live quickly and the community really rallied around to help get them back on track with household items and clothing. With the cooler months upon us, I really urge anyone with a dryer or with tenanted properties to make sure that those lint filters are being regularly emptied.

“Cleaning the lint filter out might be the difference between life and death. Insurance is there for physical damage but I know we would all find it much harder to sleep at night had a life had been lost so close to home” Michelle concluded.

Michelle’s message to others renting out farmhouses

  • Ensure you have a regular system for monitoring the installation and functioning of smoke alarms.
  • Have a conversation with your staff or tenants about considering a contents insurance policy.
  • Have the details for emergency services available to your tenants and talk them through this as part of your health and safety inductions.
  • In a fire, when you know the house is clear, shut the doors on your way out. This reduces fueling the fire with more oxygen.

The Borries have almost completed the rebuild of the property. Alongside some other employee housing builds has been a relocation of the laundries to the carports to ensure ample ventilation and to reduce the risk of a laundry fire taking out the whole house or putting sleeping tenants at risk.