A heroic Mangere East woman who saved her three young nieces from a fire yesterday slept in the garage last night, after the blaze gutted their home.
Yesterday started off as a normal morning for 31-year-old Cathylyn Palaa, except that she was having trouble settling her baby niece.
It was just after 9am, she had dropped her two girls, aged 5 and 6, at school, and was looking after her three nieces aged 6 months, 2 and 6 at the family's McKinstry Ave home.
The baby would usually have been asleep in her parents' room at this time, but instead, Ms Palaa was feeding her in the living room, when she heard a smoke alarm go off.
Then she noticed smoke seeping under the door of the bedroom where the baby should have been sleeping.
"The first thing I thought about was the kids," Ms Palaa told the Herald yesterday evening, as she salvaged the toys, clothing and bedding that hadn't been destroyed.
"I called both of them and I grabbed the baby and ran outside. I put them in my van and drove it on to the street," she said.
She ran back inside and saw smoke billowing from under the door.
When she opened it, she found the room was ablaze.
"I went back in to see if I could do anything about the fire. I turned on all the taps and the bath and the shower, then I went outside and got the hose, but the pressure was too weak," she said.
As the flames began to spread, she realised it was hopeless, and fire crews, who had arrived in the meantime, told her to get away from the house.
Last night, all that could be rescued was a handful of blankets, a few toys and some clothes.
None of the children required medical attention. Ms Palaa was taken to hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation, but was discharged in the afternoon.
"I feel lucky, because this is the first day I haven't had the baby in that room sleeping," she said.
"I don't know what happened, but she was wide awake."
Fire Service risk management officer Terry Jordan said Ms Palaa and the children were lucky to be alive.
"If she hadn't had the smoke alarm it might well have been a lot more serious than it was," he said. "It could have been life threatening. It spread quite quickly through the house.
"The smoke alarm was certainly a life saver in this situation."
Mr Jordan said it was too early to determine the cause of the fire, which had started in the bedroom.
"We're considering a few options, but a definite cause is still unknown."