5 Aug 2015

Waimate family's deaths 'just tragic'

7:49 pm on 5 August 2015

The Waimate community is rallying around to help the surviving members of a Nepalese family, following a blaze today that left three people dead.

Tika, Pram and Tej Kafle.

Left to right: Tika, Praem and Tej Kafle Photo: Facebook

The three people killed were Tej Kafle, his wife Tika Kafle and their eight-year-old son Praem, Mr Kafle's brother told Radio New Zealand News.

The couple's three daughters were rescued from the fire in accommodation above a restaurant in the South Canterbury town.

The building, in the town's main street, caught fire about 7.40am. The fire took 45 minutes to put out, and the bodies of two adults and a child were found inside the building.

The Fire Service said three siblings escaped the fire by climbing through a bedroom window onto a veranda and then onto the roof.

When crews arrived, two workers from a nearby supermarket were already trying to rescue them, and firefighters helped all five to safety.

The sisters suffered smoke inhalation and minor injuries and were treated at Timaru Hospital, which said all three were discharged this evening.

no caption

The fire broke out above the Everest Indian Restaurant Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

A Waimate resident paying tribute to the  Kafle family outside their restaurant, Everest Indian Restaurant.

A Waimate resident places flowers outside the restaurant. Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

Waimate Main School principal Adam Rivett said children and staff had reacted with shock and sadness. The boy who died and his 10-year-old sister both attended the school.

Mr Rivett said a Ministry of Education trauma incident team had been at the school, and the children had been told about the fire and the deaths.

He said the children had been given time to grieve and come to terms with the news, but some were too young to understand.

Waimate District Mayor Craig Rowley said the family had been in Waimate for about 18 months, and offers of help for the survivors were flooding in.

"I know them reasonably well because I actually own the shop next door to them and they're a hard-working immigrant family from Nepal," he said.

"Definitely part of the community. We have a strong Nepalese community in the district, so hopefully they can all rally around together, with the rest of the community, and try and support the kids through this."

An account has been set up at the Waimate ANZ bank for anyone wanting to make a donation.

Mr Rowley told Nine to Noon the the two-storey building, the old Savoy Tearooms, had changed hands about two years ago.

no caption

The building is on Waimate's main street. Photo: Google Maps / RNZ

The cause of the blaze is still to be determined but the Fire Service said initial indications were that it was a tragic accident.

Investigators believe it started in the kitchen of the five-bedroomed accommodation area above the group of shops, and are trying to establish whether there were working smoke alarms.

Fire Service Acting Chief Executive Paul McGill said crews from volunteer brigades in Waimate, Glenavy and Washdyke responded rapidly to the callout and performed in a highly professional manner. "Unfortunately, they weren't able to save those lives."

Fire Service Mid and South Canterbury Area Commander Paul Henderson said the first floor was well alight when the crews arrived.

Mr Henderson said Mrs Kafle and her son were found in one of the property's bedrooms while Mr Kafle was found in the hallway.

He said it looked as if all three were trying to flee the fire at the time of their death, and said they were likely rendered unconscious by smoke and gas very quickly.

He said the deaths were tragic and it was amazing that the three girls had survived.

"It's a tragic set of circumstances. A small community, many of the firefighters probably knew the family and we're making sure that the firefighters are being well looked after. We're running through a debrief tonight," Mr Henderson said.

"That crew of firefighters who arrived first did a fantastic job of getting in that first floor and making the rescue. It's just tragic."