The mother of two children who died in a Christchurch house fire has revealed she was away from the home, on a late-night shopping run, and returned to the horrific scene, and her partner trying to save their lives.
Nicole Mulligan made a trip to the supermarket after putting her four children to bed on Tuesday night. An hour later, she returned to find two of her children had died in the fire.
The distraught mother told the Press she turned into the street and saw the fire, hoping it wasn't her house.
"I lost two babies in one night and I blame myself because I wasn't there.
"I was shopping and I should've been there ... I feel like I could've saved them."
She had made the trip after her pay landed in her bank account; she wanted to make sure there was food in the house for breakfast when her children woke up.
Mulligan's partner Des Cooke, father of 9-month-old Arianna, one of the children who died, made a desperate attempt to save others inside by crawling into the burning house but was forced to retreat.
"He went to open the bedroom door and this big ball of fire just whacked him [Cooke] into the wall. He didn't even hear her [Arianna] cry, she was already gone."
Cooke told Daily Mail Australia: "I just couldn't enter the room. The flames and smoke were unbearable. I tried to push past it but I just wasn't able to."
Cooke was dragged out by a neighbour.
"People keep calling me a hero. I sure don't feel like one. I let two children down."
Fire and Emergency New Zealand assistant area commander Mike Bowden told the Herald that Arianna was found dead in what was described as an "unsurvivable bedroom".
Bowden told the Herald that Arianna's brother Brayden was found in the doorway outside his sister's bedroom.
His mother told the Press she would not be surprised if her son was trying to save his little sister.
Eight-year-old Brayden was rescued by firefighters during search and rescue operations, but died later.
Emergency services were called to the Christchurch home just before 10.45pm on Tuesday.
Many neighbours reached for their own garden hoses to help put out the flames.
An unnamed neighbour said: "We heard screaming and then just all the flames, we tried to get the hose out to try and help."
A source who knows the family told the Herald the children's mother is struggling to sleep.
"She's in a nightmare she can't wake up from."
"They were my life, they were my everything. My day was about looking after them and now they're not here for me to look after," Mulligan told the Press.
A Givealittle page has been set up by Brayden's aunty, Ashley Looyer, and donations have soared above $130,000.
NZ Gift of Love and Strength, a Christchurch-based charity, is taking donations for the family, which can be dropped of at the local Little Explorers Preschool.
Mulligan told the Press: "I thought we were alone in this, having to grieve for our babies. It's so heartwarming to know that other people actually cared about my babies, that their lives matter to everyone."
The mother of four suspects the fire was started by a heater which was used to keep Arianna warm.
She described Brayden as a "kind, sweet and funny" and baby Arianna as "gorgeous" who "had a smile that lit up my whole heart".
Cooke told the Daily Mail Australia: "Arianna was my precious girl. She lit up my heart with her infectious smile ... I tried my absolute best to save my baby."
She added: "Brayden adored his wee sister. He was the most gentle, caring boy you'd ever meet ... He loved his wee sister."