An elderly man did everything he could to save his wife from their burning home, a close friend says.

Denis Kemp, 89, yesterday returned to the damaged Drury home he shared with his wife, Elizabeth, and tried to salvage some personal possessions.

Mrs Kemp was killed when a fire broke out early on Sunday, possibly caused by a heater. Smoke alarms woke Mr Kemp and one of their three daughters who was staying with them, but Mrs Kemp could not get out in time.

Mr Kemp did everything he could to save her, friend Bruce Inns said.

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"We went back there this morning. He wanted personal items because all he had was his pyjamas."

Mr Inns has known the couple for more than 30 years and told the Herald Mr Kemp was totally dedicated to her.

Yesterday, he told of Mr Kemp's desperate bid to get to his wife.

"He's got peace of mind, with what he tried to do to help get her out. He did blame himself in hospital last night.

"He's 89 years of age, you know it got to the point where the smoke was so intense he had to make a decision.

"It's a tragedy, it's heartbreaking."

Despite his age, Mr Kemp had the "heart of a 30-year-old" but would struggle in the coming weeks as the reality of what happened sank in.

Mr Kemp and his children were staying at a Papakura motel but Mr Inns, an electrician, hoped to reconnect power to the cottage so Mr Kemp could return.