Luck and faith saved family

By Lindy Laird

With her home razed to the ground and every belonging she owned reduced to ashes, Chantal de Souza says she had the worst and best Mother's Day ever.

The woman whose family lost everything when their rented Omapere house went up in flames just after midnight on Sunday is warning people to discuss an escape plan in advance, "just in case of fire", make sure smoke alarms are in the right place, and get household insurance.

Mrs de Souza, her two small sons and husband Rui de Souza, survived without a scratch when the unthinkable happened - only hours after they had talked about what action to take should a fire occur.

"I'm better today," she said yesterday, after several days of shock and turmoil. "I'm just feeling lucky to have my kids and husband alive."

On Saturday evening the couple lit their first fire in the old villa they had lived in for five months but became alarmed when smoke started to pour out of a crack in the hearth. They doused the fire, but before going to bed that night Mrs de Souza and her husband talked about what to do should the fire flare up again.

"We'll just grab the kids and rush out [that] door," they said.

What they didn't know was that embers had fallen through cracks in the fireplace and the underside of their floor was already burning.

Mr de Souza fell asleep on the couch but was woken when his hand became hot. He realised instantly that the fire was burning under the old wooden house and in the wall cavities. He yelled out to his wife, waking her, and they grabbed 2-year-old Matias and 1-year-old Memphis and ran.

As the house become engulfed in flames - within five minutes - they stood outside clutching their still-sleeping children.

They fleetingly considered moving the family car which was parked close to the house. Within seconds the car was being licked by flames, then the boom of the exploding petrol tank added to the sounds of the raging fire.

"Now it seems like time was speeding up and slowing down during it," Mrs de Souza said.

"We were just standing there watching this thing happen. I was in pyjamas and no shoes, the boys were in their night stuff, Rui was dressed ... and that is all we have now, literally nothing but the clothes on our back."

Mrs de Souza believes the little prayer she sent before falling asleep may have helped save their lives and helped her husband wake before being overcome by smoke.

But mostly, it was having a "just in case" escape plan, she said.

The de Souzas have moved temporarily into her mother's nearby home, while they try to gather a home of their own again.

Mr de Souza is a part-time chef and a dance teacher. All his equipment, including computers and sound mixing gear, has gone. Mrs de Souza is grieving the loss of some family heirloom jewellery, photos, and other memorabilia, including from when "our miracle baby" Memphis was born prematurely, a brain bleed seeing him rushed to Auckland for intensive care lasting some weeks.

Mrs de Souza's close friend Carl Mann contacted the Northern Advocate and asked if the newspaper would share their story in the hope people might be able to help them.

If anyone can, please contact the family on Mrs de Souza's mother's phone number, 09 4058154, or contact this newspaper.

- Northern Advocate

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