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Victims of South Auckland house fire identified, grieving family pay tribute to kapa haka star

Author
Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 May 2024, 3:03pm

Victims of South Auckland house fire identified, grieving family pay tribute to kapa haka star

Author
Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 May 2024, 3:03pm

Two men trapped and killed in their burning home in South Auckland have been remembered as best friends and one is a talented kapa haka performer who had toured the world.

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn, 25, and Tony Masters, 24, died in yesterday’s early morning fire. A third person was seriously injured in the blaze and remains in hospital.

Ropitini-Fairburn’s family, of Ngāti Kahungunu, have remembered him as “a lovely, humble, genuine and gentle soul”.

His family said they were devastated by his death.

Police were continuing to examine the scene on Freshney Pl, Hillpark, this afternoon.

‘Such a great loss’

Two men trapped and killed in their burning home in South Auckland have been remembered as best friends - one being a talented kapa haka performer who had toured the world. Photo / Michael Craig
Two men trapped and killed in their burning home in South Auckland have been remembered as best friends - one being a talented kapa haka performer who had toured the world. Photo / Michael Craig

Ropitini-Fairburn travelled to Dubai, Italy and China with the Kaihaka Kapa Haka group.

“His fellow members are also in shock and devastated by the loss of their friend/whānau member,” his family said.

“He was like a star in China. Being of large stature, people wanted to touch him. He stole the stage when it came to karaoke too, able to cover a wider range of genres from across the decades.

“Friends he made from across the globe are sending their condolences.”

He had been a member of Kaihaka Kapa Haka since 2017. During this time he performed for the royal family of the United Arab Emirates.

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn.
Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn.

He and Marsters “were like brothers”, his family said.

They became friends while attending Studio 274 at Kia Aroha College in Ōtara. Ropitini-Fairburn’s family said they learned to write computer code. They then attended Auckland University of Technology, where they studied communications.

Ropitini-Fairburn studied at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori of Te Ara Hou in Napier and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori a Rohe o Māngere in Auckland.

His kapa haka instructor and family member Eru Rarere-Wilton told the Herald Ropitini-Fairburn was “a beautiful soul”.

“He was just a lovely person, inside and out. He was always a joy to be around. He always brought a great presence with him on stage.

Tony Marsters.
Tony Marsters.

“It’s such a great loss. We’re all in shock,” Rarere-Wilton said.

“We have many fond memories of him. Everyone loved him. Those that I have contacted, they’re very sad to hear of his passing. He was a very special young man.”

Rarere-Wilton said Ropitini-Fairburn’s family were “in good spirits”, taking comfort in their faith.

“He had a strong Christian faith and the family have hope they will see him again.”

Bystander saves man from flames

A man driving by the yesterday’s fire said he saw flames coming from the house and then helped save a man from the blaze.

Jonathan Asafo helped rescue the sole survivor from the Hillpark house fire that killed two people. Photo / David Williams
Jonathan Asafo helped rescue the sole survivor from the Hillpark house fire that killed two people. Photo / David Williams

Jonathan Asafo beeped his car horn and helped a man get out of the house while the fire was still raging.

Asafo was taking his son to daycare when he saw the flames coming from the Freshney Place home.

“I just happened to drive down at the same time as the fire and I’ve seen the whole house was on fire,” he said.

“I quickly reversed back and drove right up to the driveway. The first thing I did was beep the horn to alert everybody.”

Asafo got out of his car and alerted the neighbours, for fear that the flames would spread to their property. Then he ran to the back of the burning house, looking for anyone who may need help.

Police and fire personnel at a house fire in Hillpark, Manurewa, Auckland, yesterday morning. Photo / Michael Craig

Police and fire personnel at a house fire in Hillpark, Manurewa, Auckland, yesterday morning. Photo / Michael Craig
Yesterday's fatal house fire was on Freshney Pl, Hillpark.
Yesterday's fatal house fire was on Freshney Pl, Hillpark.

“By the time I got around to the back, the survivor was making his way through the side door. So I quickly came back to the front, checking that he was okay and asking him if there’s anybody else in the house with him.

“He said he had two other mates that are upstairs. They unfortunately didn’t make it.”

Asafo said the man who got out was aged in his 20s and was very shaken - and kept referring to his friends who were upstairs and died in the fire.

“He said it was the [sound of the car] horn and the smoke that got him out - and he happened to be the only one sleeping downstairs, while his two mates were sleeping upstairs.”

Asafo described the severity of the fire when he arrived.

“By the time I pulled up, the doors, the window frames had all melted off. It was so bright inside the house that you could see the frames of the furniture. That’s how bad it was.”

Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.

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