Retirement Commissioner calls for changes to KiwiSaver so man with Down syndrome can visit brother

The Retirement Commissioner is calling for changes to KiwiSaver rules so a man with Down Syndrome can access his money earlier than the age of 65.

Tim Fairhall, who has been working at Countdown for 14 years, wants to use his savings to travel overseas to see his brother while he is still in good health.

The 39-year-old recently starred in a video made by the Retirement Commissioner's office to champion his case for early access to his KiwiSaver funds.

Diane Maxwell, the Retirement Commissioner, says Mr Fairhall and his mother have been "to the Ombudsman, they've been through every avenue, [and] they've been back to the provider and they've still be told 'no'".

The money Mr Fairhall needs to travel with his mother is locked up in KiwiSaver until he turns 65, but Down syndrome means he is ageing faster than most.

Joan Fairhall, his mother and carer, says, "If Tim survives till he's 65, and it's quite likely he will, he'll be a really old man then - the equivalent of about 90".

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness, buying your first home or proving financial hardship are all accepted reasons for opting out of KiwiSaver, but a life-shortening condition such as Down Syndrome is currently not under consideration.

Mr Fairhall's family said the situation is unfair as he has worked hard, and his needs and those of others like him must be considered.

"He's probably going to have to retire somewhere around 42 or 45 if he's to have a bit of time to enjoy his retirement," Ms Fairhall said.

The Retirement Commissioner says some changes are needed, but the process is slow.

"Cases like Tim's, I suspect, represent a few thousand people who need something more and the risk is it falls into the 'too hard' basket," Ms Maxwell said.

Mr Fairhall and his mother have made a submission to a select committee looking at tax laws.

By the time Tim Fairhall reaches 65 to access his KiwiSaver, he’ll be “the equivalent of about 90”. Source: 1 NEWS

Firefighters battle growing wildfire as it edges near Southern California homes

Firefighters fought to spare homes today from a growing Southern California forest fire, a day after flames came perilously close to neighbourhoods and destroyed one house.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties as the fire carved its way along ridges in Cleveland National Forest south of Los Angeles.

Wellington Fire Service chief Craig Cottrill says the number of people involved and amazing logistics make the job move quickly. Source: Associated Press

Some hillsides were allowed to burn under the watchful eyes of firefighters as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for flames to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.

A ground of New Zealand firefighters are in the US state to help battle the blazes. Source: 1 NEWS

Aircraft dropped fire retardant on flames and homes as people ignoring evacuation orders used garden hoses to spray down their properties when the blaze flared Thursday evening, propelled by 30-kph gusts.

The Holy Fire burned 12 cabins at its origin in the community of Holy Jim on Monday. It had grown to nearly 77 square kilometres by Friday night (local time).

However, firefighters also doubled their containment from 5 to 10 per cent.

It's one of nearly 20 blazes across California, which is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

New images from space reveal the massive scale of the disaster. Source: 1 NEWS

Firefighters aided by cooler weather have made good progress against a blaze burning for nearly a month near Yosemite National Park in the northern part of the state.

The park was set to reopen Wednesday after a two-week closure, park spokesman Scott Gediman said today.

Visitors should expect limited hours and visitor services next week as the park returns to normal, he said. The blaze didn't reach the heart of the park and instead burned in remote areas, making roads inaccessible and polluting the area with smoke.

The closure dealt a financial blow to Yosemite at the height of the summer season and caused upheaval for thousands of tourists whose summer trips were cancelled.

Officials also gained more control over two other major Northern California wildfires, including the largest in recorded state history, even as evacuations were ordered for communities near a new fire in the Fall River Mills area, about 112 kilometres northeast of Redding.

About 350 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders because of the Hat Fire, which began yesterday near a highway.

In the south, Cleveland National Forest officials tweeted that the flames outside Los Angeles were growing as fast as crews can build lines to contain them.

"We continue to actively engage, but cannot get ahead of the fire," the statement said.

The fire was deliberately set. A resident of Holy Jim has been charged with arson and other crimes and appeared in a jailhouse courtroom today.

Forrest Clark, 51, made several outbursts, claiming his life was being threatened.

A court commissioner postponed his arraignment until August 17 and ordered bail to remain at $1.5 million.

"May I pay for that immediately?" asked Clark, who could face life in prison if convicted.

At one point, Clark covered his face with his long hair and later stared directly at a camera providing a video feed to reporters outside the courtroom.

Michael Milligan, chief of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, has told the Orange County Register that Clark had a decade-long feud with neighbours and had sent him threatening emails last week, including one that said, "This place will burn."

Crews turned a corner in their battle against Northern California's Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest-ever in recorded state history, getting it 60 per cent contained.

The fire more than 160 kilometres north of Sacramento has destroyed more than 100 homes and blackened an area about the size of Los Angeles.

New Zealanders and Australians are tackling a monster blaze in Mendocino, north of San Francisco. Source: 1 NEWS


'I’m going to be brave' - Girl, 11, knows her mother's drug taking meant she was exposed to P in the uterus

By Janet McIntyre

Grace is only 11 but she’s old enough to understand the bullet point in her medical records – “exposed to P in utero”. Source: Sunday

She's like a kitten – with her springy limbs and bright, wide eyes. She giggles, shrieks and darts around the room to Demi Lovato, then smooches up to me and whispers in my ear: "I dare you to ask Gary (the cameraman) out for dinner!" Little minx!

Just as she catches my heart she breaks it. "I'm not like other kids, I'm not special ... I don't even know if I'm meant to be here."

Grace, a name we have given her, is only 11 but she's old enough to understand the bullet point in her medical records – "Exposed to P in utero". 

"When I was in my Mum's stomach she was taking the drugs and so the drugs went into me. And I kind of ended up the way I am."

It's true. Her mum Sharon confirmed on the phone she used meth in her pregnancy, but in her defence, she said, "only in the first 11 weeks".

Grace was removed from the family home when she was 3 after it was proved Sharon was still using P.  

Research into the effects of methamphetamine on children is scarce. Professor Trecia Wouldes of Auckland University is doing the only long term study in the world, assessing the development of 107 New Zealand children over the past twelve years.  

"For those who continue to live in environments where there's mental illness, where there’s ongoing drug use, and where they've had that prenatal exposure - the outlook is not good."

She says six and a half year olds have poor memory, emotional and behavioural problems. "They're the kids in the classroom that are going to get kicked out of school and then by nine or 10 are going to start using drugs". But she says these problems are not unfixable. 

Professor Wouldes is calling for all women to be screened for P during pregnancy, and for those identified and their babies to get access to the treatment they need. A mum who continues to abuse substances through her pregnancy is likely to return to a toxic environment of drugs and violence she says. "It's a double whammy for a child, already exposed to drugs".

She says we don't know yet how these children will be effected as adults. 

Grace snuggles into the plump arms of her Nana who's now raising her and finds the sweet spot.

"I feel safe that I'm not going to be hurt. I have my Nana and my Poppa and two teacher aides and I've got the whole school supporting me". 

Grace is so worth it. She has intelligence, insight and resolve way beyond her years and with the right help her carers think she can flourish.  

"I'm going to be brave, I'm going to be strong, I'm not going to let anything get to me."

Watch the full story on TVNZ1's Sunday programme at 7.30pm tomorrow.