Girl, 3, saves family from fire tragedy

By Sandra Conchie -
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A 3-year-old Paengaroa girl saved her family from potential tragedy after she alerted her sleeping father to a fire that destroyed half of their rented home on Thursday night.

"I'm so proud of our daughter. If it wasn't for her we may not be here today to talk about what happened. She did everything right," said her father John Keith.

But Hadassah simply said of the burned single-storey five-bedroom house, "It's all broken".

Mr Keith, 25, said he was sleeping in the lounge having worked a night shift the previous evening, and Hadassah was lying beside him watching a Smurfs cartoon on the television.

"When Hadassah woke me the lounge room was full of smoke and there were huge flames coming out of the open cupboard, which was blazing," Mr Keith said.

"I yelled out to my brother-in-law Seru, who was sleeping in the back room, to get up and he ran out to help."

Mr Keith said he and his brother-in-law tried putting the fire out with basins and pots of water from the bathroom.

"But the flames were too large and were shooting up to the ceiling, so we decided the best thing to do was all get out and call the fire brigade," he said.

Mr Keith said the fire appeared to have started inside the wood cupboard beside the fireplace.

He said the family had been lighting fires in the fireplace for about a month without incident.

Seru Naibuka, 24, had been sleeping in a bedroom down the corridor.

He said seconds after he ran out of his bedroom, part of the ceiling collapsed.

"I was lucky to escape," he said.

Hadassah's mother, Salote Kavetani, 26, said she had been at work when her boss got a call about the fire and in a panic she had driven home.

Maketu Chief Fire Officer Shane Beech said fire crews were called to the property beside State Highway 33 about 9.15pm on Thursday.

He said it appeared the fire started behind the fireplace.

From there it had quickly spread up the walls and moved into the ceiling cavity, causing extensive damage as it spread the full length of the house.

Firefighters had had to remove an extensive amount of roofing material to gain access to the fire, and the fire had caused severe damage to the large house, he said.

"Pretty much the top part of house from the ceiling to the roof or 50 per cent of the house has been destroyed."

There had also been significant smoke and water damage.

The exact cause of the fire was still being investigated but it could possibly have been a bird's nest.

"It is important that fireplaces and chimneys are regularly cleared of debris and maintained before anyone lights a fire," Mr Beech said. Three fire appliances from Maketu and Te Puke had attended, and fire crews were at the property for more than two hours.

Mr Beech said because the house was some distance from the main road, a water tanker had to be called in as getting access to sufficient water to fight the fire had been difficult.

The family had rented the property for about a year, and were now looking for alternative housing. They were still counting the cost of what they'd lost, which was mostly bedding and clothing.

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