Kettle caused fatal Waimate fire - coroner

Vaimoana Tapaleao, NZ Herald,
Lower South Island,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 13 June 2018, 5:30p.m.
Christchurch funeral service for Tej Kafle ,Tika Kafle and Pream Kafle, who died in a fire at their home in Waimate in August, 2015. (Photo / Martin Hunter)
Christchurch funeral service for Tej Kafle ,Tika Kafle and Pream Kafle, who died in a fire at their home in Waimate in August, 2015. (Photo / Martin Hunter)

A plastic kettle is thought to have started a fire that resulted in the deaths of three people in one family, including a young boy.

Tej Kafle, 49, his wife Tika Kafle, 42, and their eight-year-old son Prem Kafle were killed on the morning of August 5, 2015, when a fire ripped through their upstairs flat in Waimate, Canterbury.

The family, originally from Nepal, owned the Everest Indian Restaurant on Queen St, just downstairs.

The couple's three daughters - who had been sleeping in a room on the other side of the flat, away from the blaze - survived by climbing out of a window and onto the roof.

They did so after hearing a "swish of wind, like a sucking noise, a strong wind'' that alerted them to the fire raging in the hallway behind their bedroom door.

A coroner's finding released this afternoon revealed more details about that fateful day, including where firefighters found the victims in their home.

The findings showed that Tika Kafle had died of inhalation of smoke and fumes with significant carbon monoxide.

Her husband Tej died of carbon monoxide poisoning, as did their youngest child, Prem.

A now retired specialist fire investigator, Kevin Collins, concluded that the point of origin was a plastic electric kettle on top of a stainless steel bench top in the upstairs kitchen.

The kitchen was near the bedroom that Tika and Tej shared with their son.

"The remnants of the kettle showed that it was plugged into a double adaptor which was plugged into the 240-volt electrical socket on the wall,'' the report said.

"The switch on the wall socket was in the 'on' position."

Collins said the kettle ignited at some point that morning and the resulting fire, fuelled by the plastic body of the kettle, burned and spread to the wallpaper, wall linings and then kitchen wall and ceiling.

Coroner Marcus Elliott's findings also revealed what is thought to have happened after Tika Kafle became the first person in the family to realise there was a fire, when she opened their bedroom door.

Based on where the bodies were found, it is thought that in the thick smoke, she managed to get her son down the hallway towards the foyer and to the top of the stairs, which went down to their restaurant.

"Entering the foyer, it is assumed that she expected her son to go down the stairs and has instinctively turned around and attempted to go back for her daughters and husband,'' the report said.

"She had only just got into the hall as far as the lounge door when she has been caught in the fire flashover.''

Sadly, her efforts would be in vain, as young Prem is thought to have become disoriented in the thick smoke.

He was found in a fetal position near a window, still dressed in his school uniform.

Tej Kafle was in the bedroom still, covered in blankets. Prem was also found surrounded by clothing and blankets.

Collins said studies showed that when people were aware of a fire but were unable to escape, they tended to protect themselves by placing objects like furniture, between them.

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