A fundraising campaign for a man whose wife, son and mother-in-law perished in a fire yesterday has amassed thousands of dollars within 12 hours.

Prominent refugee advocate Kaileshan Thanabalasingham was in a critical condition after a South Auckland fire claimed three generations from his family. His 5-year-old son, 39-year-old wife and her 66-year-old mother died in the fire at the Plantation Ave home in Flat Bush.

His 11-year-old daughter and father-in-law managed to get out of the blaze and have now been discharged from Middlemore Hospital.

Sri Lankan refugee Kaileshan Thanabalasingham is in critical condition after a South Auckland fire claimed the lives of three of his family members. PHOTO/supplied.
Sri Lankan refugee Kaileshan Thanabalasingham is in critical condition after a South Auckland fire claimed the lives of three of his family members. PHOTO/supplied.

A Givealittle page has raised more than $45,000 since it was set up after the tragedy.

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Barrister Deborah Manning said Kaileshan Thanabalasingham had worked tirelessly for other people since he came to New Zealand as a refugee more than 10 years ago.

"He's got a great empathy for others. He didn't come to New Zealand to look after himself. He made sure he looked after as many people as he could.

"Everybody is just in a state of shock and stress and utter sadness for the loss of his beautiful wife and son."

Thanabalasingham is an executive officer of the Refugee Council of New Zealand and has dedicated his life in this country to helping the most vulnerable new citizens.

He is now recovering from hours of surgery in the hospital's intensive care unit after suffering burns to 40 per cent of his body.

Manning was "utterly shocked and devastated" when she found out what had happened to her friend and colleague. She rushed to the hospital to assist. He was in theatre at the time but Manning will go back today to support Thanabalasingham.

"It's an absolute tragedy for Kailesh and his family. He is really an exceptional person."

The Refugees as Survivors New Zealand members behind the fundraising page say Thanabalasingham's daughter and father-in-law have been left badly shocked by the ordeal.

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"Refugees as Survivors New Zealand are involved because we respect and admire Kailesh for his work with asylum seekers and refugees in the community. If anyone was in trouble, day or night, he would help them.

"The least we can do is to help him in his hour of need."

The group says their badly injured friend and advocate now faces huge expenses including funeral, medical and practical costs.

As a sign of their love for him they were reaching out to the community to help a man who had given so much to others.

With the total quickly surging into the tens of thousands by mid-morning the group said it was heartened and thankful for everyone's generous support.

The scene of a fatal house fire on Plantation Ave in Flat Bush. PHOTO/Jason Oxenham.
The scene of a fatal house fire on Plantation Ave in Flat Bush. PHOTO/Jason Oxenham.

Family friend Sivaram Anandasivam said Thanabalasingham was a pillar of the Sri Lankan and wider ethnic communities and the news of the tragedy had stunned everyone.

"We are all very upset," said Anandasivam.

"Everyone is gathering at the hospital hoping for the best."

The injured father-in-law and his wife who died in the blaze were Canadian citizens.

Extended family were flying from Canada to New Zealand to support those who had survived the tragedy.

Refugee Council of New Zealand vice president Colin Henry had heard about the fire but didn't realise Thanabalasingham was involved until the media called at midday yesterday.

Henry said he was "at a loss for words".

"It is horrible for anyone, but when you know the person it has a particularly profound impact."

Henry said Thanabalasingham was deeply passionate about refugee rights.

"He pretty much ran the administrative side of the council and ensured everything was shipshape."

Some of his notable work included successfully advocating for the increase of the refugee quota from 750 to 1000, which will take effect from 2018.

He also pushed for permission for more than one person in a family of asylum seekers to obtain a work permit while waiting for the determination of their refugee application. Previously only one family member was allowed a work permit.

Henry said the family were going to need a lot of support to help them through this tragedy.

"The Sri Lankan community are rallying around and providing the immediate housing needs of the daughter."

It emerged Thanabalasingham's daughter bravely escaped the blaze to tell firefighters people were trapped inside.

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, but the cause was still unknown.

The Fire Service is investigating.

Donate to the family here.