Neighbours rescue sleeping family as house burns

Simon Collins, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Monday, 17 April 2017, 10:57AM

Two neighbours banged frantically on the front door of an Otara house today to tell a family sleeping inside that the house was on fire.

The family, including four preschool-aged children, were sleeping soundly and did not realise that a fire had started in the kitchen on the other side of their Housing NZ house in Rapson Rd, Flat Bush.

Eventually the father came to the door, grabbed his 4-year-old twin girls, then ran back into the burning house to find the youngest children.

He carried out the 2-year-old, and his partner carried out the baby just before the flames blocked their way to the front door. The back door from the kitchen was already ablaze.

"We could see the flames rolling up on the roof, so we had to get low to make sure we got the kids out," said neighbour Edward Johnstone, 27.

"If it had been any longer, the flames would have blocked the door."

Luke Wells and his partner, Celia, had been living in the house for several years with their twins Chevonand Judy, 4, and toddlers Derek, 2, and Celia, 1.

Johnstone said his father-in-law noticed smoke coming from the house when he got up to make a cup of coffee just before 7am.

"He can see the house from our kitchen window," Johnstone said. "He could see some smoke. He just went outside to have a look and then he saw some flames coming from the kitchen.

"He told my mum to ring 111, so we ran over to the house. I was already up doing something else and I heard them running and I heard them saying, 'Call 111.'

"I just ran out there and saw him running up on the footpath, so I jumped over the fence and saw the flames."

At first they couldn't get any response.

"Everyone was asleep. I had to bang on the whole house and try and wake them up," Johnstone said.

"When I woke them up, they didn't know anything was going on.

"Luke finally woke up. He said it might have been different if he wasn't there because his partner is quite a heavy sleeper.

"I think they were just in shock really, knowing that it's happening to them and being woken up like that, having people banging on your house and yelling. They were tired still, the kids were sleeping.

"They were all crying, all the kids were crying, and dad was just like he was there but not really there. The partner was still coming to, really. We got her out and she was like, 'What's going on?'"

Fire Service shift manager Megan Ruru said the house was well ablaze when firefighters arrived four minutes after receiving the 111 call at 6.58am today.

"There were big flames when the Fire Service got there," Ruru said.

Johnstone said half the house was burnt.

"It's basically stuffed," he said.

He said the mother dropped the children off to friends or family, and both the parents were still talking to the Fire Service and a Housing NZ manager when Johnstone spoke to the Herald around 8.30am today.

A Housing NZ spokesman said the family were all safe and were staying with relatives until the corporation could find them alternative housing.

He said Housing NZ did not know how the fire started.

However, Johnstone said the family told him they bought takeaways last night and did not cook, so they could not have left any electrical appliance on in the kitchen. But they had complained in the past about faulty wiring.

"They have told Housing NZ there was faulty wiring in the house," he said.

He said the fire also threatened another neighbouring house, and Johnstone and his father-in-law also woke the people there to get them out.

"The houses are pretty close together. Even the cars had to get out of the way," he said.

The neighbours moved their car and "everyone got out safely".

The fire is being treated as suspicious.

An investigator is picking through the embers looking for clues.

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