Three generations of the family of a prominent New Zealand refugee advocate have died in fatal house fire in South Auckland earlier today.
Friends are rallying at Middlemore Hospital to support Kailesh Thanabalasingham as he fights for his life following a tragic fire that claimed the life of his five-year-old son, his wife and mother-in-law.
Family friend Sivaram Anandasivam said the fire had devastated three generations of the Thanabalasingham family.
He said Kailesh Thanabalasingham, who was being treated for severe burns in Middlemore Hospital, was a pillar of the Sri Lankan and wider ethnic communities and the news of the tragedy had left everyone stunned.
Thanabalasingham is currently an executive officer of the Refugee Council of New Zealand and has dedicated his life in this country helping the most vulnerable new citizens.
Police this afternoon said the young schoolboy and two women aged 39 and 66 died in the fire at the Plantation Ave property in Flat Bush.
The boy's 11-year-old sister, and 69-year-old grandfather remain in Middlemore Hospital in a stable condition.
His 47-year-old father is still in a critical condition.
Friends from the Sri Lankan groups and neighbours were now at the South Auckland hospital awaiting word on their friend who had spent the morning in surgery.
He said Thanabalasingham's son, wife and mother-in-law died in the blaze.
"We are all very upset," said Anandasivam.
"Everyone is gathering at the hospital hoping for the best and to support his family."
Anandasivam said the family had welcomed the grandparents into their home for a holiday just two weeks ago.
The injured father-in-law and his wife who died in the blaze were Canadian citizens. Extended family were now flying from Canada to New Zealand to support those who had survived the tragedy.
He said the young daughter who managed to flee the inferno was distraught.
"She's crying. She has learnt that her mother, brother and grandmother died in the fire and she is desperately waiting to see her dad.
"She thought something would have happened to him too."
Anandasivam said the family was being helped by human rights lawyer and friend Deborah Manning who had arrived at the hospital earlier today.
In the meantime the plans had been cancelled where Thanabalasingham was leading community events. It included a Harvest Festival due to be held next month.
It emerged his 11-year-old girl bravely escaped the blaze to tell firefighters people were trapped inside.
Fire Service area commander Larry Cocker said the youngster managed to get through the blaze to reach firefighters and tell them others were still behind the wall of flames upstairs in their bedrooms.
With windows exploding and smoke billowing from the two-storey home fire crews immediately started attacking the fire to enable a rescue crew to venture into the burning property and pluck those still alive to safety.
It wasn't long before firefighters found the destructive blaze had claimed a grim toll.
"We fairly quickly established people were deceased in the property," said Cocker.
"We saved the saveable but then focused on getting the fire out."
Police said they were continuing a scene examination of the home and the deaths would be referred to the coroner.
They do not believe the fire was suspicious, however the cause was still unknown.
The Fire Service would still be investigating the cause.
Detective Inspector Gary Lendrum said it was "an absolutely devastating time for this family and we are wrapping as much support around them as we possibly can".
Neighbours have told of hearing desperate screams and exploding glass shattering the stillness of the sleeping street.
Plantation Ave neighbour Christa Stone said at least three children lived at the house.
"They'd just bike up and down with each other. It's just kind of sad because there's going to be one or two less."
Resident Julie Pedrido said she heard a commotion but did not realise how serious it was.
"All I heard was screaming - I just thought people were arguing - and then glass breaking. I just thought people were throwing things at each other."
She said the deaths were a tragedy for the street, especially so close to Christmas.
"I'm really shocked because I live right across the road, and I feel really bad because I didn't even know," she said.
"I just woke up to fire sirens and the police.
"And then I looked out the window and I couldn't really see the fire, I just saw light and smoke," Pedrido said.
Another resident posted on Facebook: "We are right next door. Can't get the father's cries out of my head. So horrible."