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Two dead in house fire: Hero dad helped rescue sole survivor

Author
David Williams,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 May 2024, 10:17am

Two dead in house fire: Hero dad helped rescue sole survivor

Author
David Williams,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 May 2024, 10:17am

A man driving by the scene of a fatal house fire in Auckland this morning has told of the moment he helped the only survivor get out of the building. 

Two people died in the blaze that engulfed a property in Hillpark at 6.55am. 

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

“To be able to save one life is better than losing three.” 

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.” 

Jonathan Asafo speaks to a fire investigator. Asafo was driving past the Hillpark house when he saw the fire and helped a survivor escape from the blaze. Photo / David Williams

Jonathan Asafo speaks to a fire investigator. Asafo was driving past the Hillpark house when he saw the fire and helped a survivor escape from the blaze. Photo / David Williams 

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

“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 perished 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.” 

Police and fire crews at the scene of a house fire in Hillpark, Manurewa, Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig

Police and fire crews at the scene of a house fire in Hillpark, Manurewa, Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig 

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.” 

Asafo said his 3-year-old son remained in their vehicle the whole time. 

”He was a bit scared.” 

Asked if he himself was okay, Asafo said he was more sad than shocked. 

”I really had hoped that we would’ve been able to save the other two guys. But to be able to save one life is better than losing three.” 

Brendan Irwin, assistant commander for Manukau Fire and Emergency, said they responded to multiple calls from the public about a house fire in Freshney Place, Hillpark. Firefighters were met with a “well-involved” blaze. 

“Unfortunately, there were three occupants that were unaccounted for. Our crews carried out a search and rescue and removed two occupants from the house, followed by a third occupant in a secondary search.” 

“Sadly, I can confirm that there is two deceased people at this property.” 

The third person has been taken to Middlemore Hospital in a serious condition. 

Asked how the fire started, Irwin said they did not yet know and fire investigators at the scene were working with police to determine the cause. 

Irwin said the fire had spread to “a number of rooms” in the house. 

“This is a really tragic time for the family involved and it’s a tough time for our staff as well, who try and have a positive outcome in this instance.” 

Asked if there were any working fire alarms at the property, Irwin said he did not know. 

Emergency response crews at the scene. Photo / Michael Craig

Emergency response crews at the scene. Photo / Michael Craig 

Neighbour Rowena Knill was lying in bed shortly before 7am when she heard what she thought might have been the recycling truck. 

“I started hearing popping and glass breaking. But I couldn’t hear a truck, so I got up and opened the curtain to see the fire.” 

She called fire crews at 6.54am, she said, and could hear a car beeping its horn - and assumed someone was trying to alert the people inside the house involved. 

“It happened within minutes,” she said of the speed of the spread of the fire. 

“It felt like a long time, but firefighters got here quickly.” 

She went outside and said a number of residents were out on the street by then too. They watched on as fire crews battled the flames. 

“No one came out of the house,” she said. 

There was no yelling or shouting. 

The house was photographed from a neighbouring property while ablaze. Photo / Rowena Knill

The house was photographed from a neighbouring property while ablaze. Photo / Rowena Knill 

Knill, whose family have lived on the street for about 11 years, said the family at the house involved were also long-term residents. 

“They’ve got a big family. We’d see them sitting on the porch and someone playing the guitar outside. You’d drive past and see them sitting outside for family gatherings.” 

She said there was an older woman who lived at the home and often had grandchildren come to visit. 

“We don’t know how many people actually lived there. But she used to wave and say hello. They’re just your normal family.” 

Hearing that authorities had confirmed two people had died in the blaze, Knill became emotional. 

“It’s pretty upsetting - especially for the family. They’re obviously social - they always had family gatherings. It’s a sad morning for our street.” 

”It just kept going. It didn’t stop. I looked out my windows and there was no one in the street and then I looked out my other window and the house was just ablaze.” 

”You thought someone was being rough in the streets, maybe smashing windscreens because it sounded like really weird noises, maybe like firecrackers.” 

”It just kept going. It didn’t stop. I looked out my windows and there was no-one in the street and then I looked out my other window and the house was just ablaze.” 

She immediately rang 111 and was told emergency services were aware of the fire. 

”Within a few minutes, they were here.” 

She said everyone was on the street watching what was going on. 

”We have all been chatting and supporting each other.” 

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