Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Father's frantic search during Papamoa blaze

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Papamoa house fire survivors Kent Robinson, and his partner Savanna Wichman and their children Tayla-Rose, 3, Riley, 6, Winter, 2, and 4-month-old Alistair. Photo/George Novak
Papamoa house fire survivors Kent Robinson, and his partner Savanna Wichman and their children Tayla-Rose, 3, Riley, 6, Winter, 2, and 4-month-old Alistair. Photo/George Novak

"My neighbours were screaming out asking whether anyone was still in the house...

"I didn't know where she was and feared she was in the house somewhere."

That was the terrifying situation Papamoa father-of-five Kent Robinson faced after fleeing his burning home with his two-year-old daughter in his arms and then realising his oldest daughter might be inside.

Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday Mr Robinson, 26, said he was settling in to watch a movie just after 2pm on Sunday when he noticed the smell of smoke wafting through his rented Dickson Rd property.

The builder had just showered his daughter Winter, 2, who had then fallen asleep on the couch, he said.

"I ran upstairs and looked out the window and saw smoke coming through the roof of the shed.

I ran downstairs again and opened the shed door to try to put the fire out.

"But as soon as I opened the door the flames hit me in the face. It caught me a bit off guard and I hesitated for moment before I grabbed Winter who was still asleep, ran out the back door and down the side of the house.

"My neighbours were screaming out asking whether anyone was still in the house. I handed Winter to one of my neighbours and frantically started looking for my oldest daughter Bella who had just gone down to the dairy.

"I didn't know where she was and feared she was in the house somewhere. I ran back in to check but didn't find her... I was so relieved when I saw her riding her scooter along the footpath carrying her drink."

The house that was burnt down in Papamoa. Photo/George Novak
The house that was burnt down in Papamoa. Photo/George Novak

A Givealittle page has been launched to help the family.

Mr Robinson said in his panic he could not figure out how many children his partner Savanna Wichman had left in his care, while she attended a church meeting in Hartford Ave.

He recalled 9-year-old Bella kept telling him he was going to be "in trouble" when his partner and the other children got home.

The fire spread quickly through the house, destroying everything inside, and the majority of the outside of the house was also damaged.

Mr Robinson he could not bare to stand and watch his rented home go up in flames.

The couple, who lost everything in the blaze apart from a suitcase of photographs and some washing on the clothesline, had no contents insurance.

"It's very unfortunate. I also lost all my tools that I use to make a living. But they're just things and mostly the kind of things that you can buy in a shop, or be replaced over time," Mr Robinson said.

"We are just so grateful it turned out the way it did, it could have been whole lot worse. My children are all safe and that's the most important thing to me. Life often throws up challenges and this is just another test for us to overcome."

Ms Wichman, 26, said it was about 1.45pm when she had left with the couple's other three children - Riley, 6, Tayla-Rose, 3, and 4-month-old Alistair.

"It was about 2.15pm I got a call to say a house in Dickson Rd was on fire....I left Alistair and Tayla-Rose with my sister and took off, leaving in a bit of a panic. I didn't know what house it was at first but sure enough when I got closer it was our house. "

"At first I didn't see Kent, Winter or Bella. I was in shock when saw the smouldering house.
I just needed to see them to make sure they were alright. Then I saw Kent holding Winter in his arms. He looked green, like he wanted to throw up.

"I have never seen him look like that, and it really shocked me. Then Bella ran over to me with a huge smile on her face. I have never been so relieved."

The couple said they were blown away by the support they had received from neighbours and the community, that included being given meals, clothing and emotional support.

"It's been absolutely awesome,'' Ms Wichman said.

Fire investigator Jon Rewi said the exact cause of the blaze was yet to be confirmed.

But the fire was being treated as accidental, and was believed to have been started by a spark from a chisel sharpening tool.

Mr Rewi said it was likely the house would have to be rebuilt.

A Givealittle page has been launched to help the family.

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