Whānau pay tribute to best friends killed in Hillpark house fire

2:48 pm on 14 May 2024
The two victims of the Hillpark fatal house fire have been identified as Tony Marsters (left) and Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn (right).

Photo: Supplied

Whānau of the men killed in an Auckland house fire on Monday, say the pair were best friends who were "joined at the hip".

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn, 25, and Tony Marsters, 24, died in the blaze on Freshney Place in Hillpark, shortly before 7am on Monday.

The pair had been living at the home with their friend, who survived the fire and is in Middlemore Hospital recovering from serious burns.

Ropitini-Fairburn had been a "loved member" of Kaihaka Kapa Haka group, founder and owner Eru Rarere-Wilton said.

He noted Ropitini-Fairburn travelled to places, including China and Italy, to perform with the group.

"Kiwa was my wife's nephew and lived with us for a bit before moving into that house with his best friends."

Hillpark fatal house fire

Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Rarere-Wilton said he was at the hospital with other whānau members of Ropitini-Fairburn, while they waited for his body to be released to them.

"Kiwa will spend a night in Takaanini and a service will be held at Destiny Church in Manukau before he is taken to Manutai Marae in Nūhaka, Hawke's Bay, where he will be laid to rest at Ihaka Maihi Urupā.

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn performing with Kaihaka Kapa Haka in Italy.

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn performing with Kaihaka Kapa Haka in Italy. Photo: Supplied / Kaihaka Kapa Haka

"His parents and siblings would like to thank everybody for their love and support and send their sincerest love to the whānau Brad Rangitaawa as they move through this time and space with him in ICU.

"It's all come as a shock. He was such a loving and beautiful soul and so talented.

"He had an amazing singing voice and when we were in China they all called him the karaoke king."

Learning of the deaths of Ropitini-Fairburn and Marsters was "deepely saddening", Rarere-Wilton said.

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn and Tony Marsters were "like brothers", Eru Rarere-Wilton said, after becoming friends at Kia Aroha College while studying coding that was sponsored by Microsoft.

They both continued their education in communications at AUT, and recently worked in hospitality, he said.

Parents of the sole survivor of the fire spoke to journalists at the scene on Monday, and said they were "devastated" by the deaths of their son's friends.

Pana Rangitaawa, the survivor's dad, said his son was expected to recover although he would need plastic surgery.

House fire in Hillpark in Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Melanie Earley

"I don't know what to say ... I'm waiting for other family to arrive. We still don't know what's actually happened," he said through his tears.

He said his mother and his 91-year-old grandmother usually lived at the house along with the three others.

Passerby saved man from fire

Jonathan Asafo, who lives two minutes from the fire scene, was on his way to drop off his son in daycare when he saw the flames.

"I saw the whole house on fire and then I quickly reversed back and seeing as no one was on the road and no one knew the house was on fire, I quickly ... drove up the driveway and I started tooting my horn and then calling, running around for any response."

He saw a truck in the driveway, and with flames coming out of the house he ran to the neighbour's house and alerted them.

By the time he returned, a survivor had made it onto the back lawn. He had been sleeping downstairs, but he feared for his two friends who had been sleeping upstairs, Asafo said.

The young man was in shock, and the skin had burnt off his hands, Asafo said.

Jonathan Asafo came across a house ablaze in the Auckland suburb of Hillpark.

Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

He escaped the fire after hearing Asafo's horn.

"He quickly went through the back door ... [he was] fully in shock."

Auckland councillor Daniel Newman, who had dealt with the family previously on storm water issues, said the deaths were devastating.

He said the family were engaged members of the community.

Police and fire investigators were still working to determine how the fire started.