A survivor of a catastrophic South Auckland fire has recounted his desperate bid to grab his children and a computer before fleeing his burning home.
Around three dozen survivors who have been left homeless and sought refuge in a church were spared in this morning’s massive blaze in Māngere Bridge.
One survivor living in one of five now-destroyed Coronation Rd dwellings said he awoke to shouts about the fire in the early hours.
“We just got up and ran out. I grabbed my laptop and the kids and we ran out to the church,” the father of three told the Herald.
“We’re so grateful no lives were lost. Material possessions can be replaced but the fact everyone is safe is the most important thing,” he said.
“We’re all positive and in good spirits here. We know tomorrow will bring hope.”
A 28-year-old mum who fled the blaze said she came from Tonga to start a new life in New Zealand only to lose everything today.
“We didn’t know there was a fire.
“I rushed to the front door because I was asleep with my mum in the lounge, and my son was with my sister, I remember being half asleep thinking of my son at that time.”
A roll call of residents took place soon after they fled their burning homes.
Another person said they were still in shock.
“Amidst times of need, the island way is to pray and come together,” she said.
Approximately 40 people have gathered in the Siasi Tokaikolo ‘ia Kalaisi - ‘Api ko Nasaleti Church just metres away from the five homes razed in the fire.
Survivors said four families were impacted by the fire, which was reported just before 3am.
Māngere MP Lemauga Lydia Sosene said the homes were temporary housing for families in need of a place to stay.
‘Wake up, it’s a fire!’ Reverend recounts horror ordeal
The church minister, who only wanted to be referred to as Reverend Savai’inaea, said: “We all wake up to the fire and the call: ‘Wake up, it’s a fire!’ So we got everyone up and got them all out.
“Fire brigades [arrived] and carried out their jobs. Police came too.”
Savai’inaea said everyone went down to the church parking lot to gather and watch as their homes went up in flames.
“At this stage, we still [haven’t] determined what happened. The good thing is that no one was hurt or killed. They’re all good and everyone is cheerful.
“What’s happened to people has made them stronger.”
The reverend said they were helping 10 families, who were all members of their church.
“We have very young kids here - even babies. We are all here at the church hall.”
Other church members had rallied to bring in supplies including bags of clothes, bedding materials and food.
The families and church members said a prayer before having breakfast. They had bread, cereal, coffee, tea and meat pies.
“There are four families who have had total loss,” Savai’inaea said.
They had lost absolutely everything in their homes and only had each other.
Plans to rehouse the victims are still in the works, with the church providing mattresses and blankets for the families to stay there tonight.
Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board chair Tauanu’u Nick Bakulich said: “Thank God there was no loss of life. We’re thinking about those families who have lost homes and belongings.”
He said that Māngere was a strong community that would offer its full support to those families affected.
“Our hearts go out to them. We’re grateful that there’s a community wrapping around them.
“This is just tragic stuff, especially coming up to the festive season. These people will be facing a bit of a challenge and heartbreak.”
Meanwhile, nearby schools are on high alert for asbestos due to the age of the buildings.
Mountain View School has told parents to keep children home from class, saying there would be a public health warning sent regarding the blaze.
Cindy Taylor from Tadpoles Early Childhood Centre said staff were keeping the children inside until they had heard it was safe. Māngere Bridge School is open but children will be inside for at least an hour after the blaze is extinguished.
Medical Officer of Health Northern region Dr Denise Barnfather said there is a “low risk” for other properties in the area due to FENZ’s efforts in dampening the area and the lack of wind.
Public health staff will be working with Auckland Council today to complete a comprehensive assessment of the asbestos risk.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand northern shift manager Gareth Lewis said multiple calls had come in from 2.58am about a house fire in the suburb.
“On arrival, we found multiple houses well involved in fire,” Lewis said.
After 7am, a Herald photographer said there were still four fire trucks at the scene and a ladder truck was still being used to hose down the smoking ruins of several buildings behind the church.
Twisted corrugated iron is all that remains of most of the buildings.
- additional reporting: Vaimoana Mase, Kirsty Wynn