Northland family of nine escape house fire thanks to working smoke alarms

Members of a Northland whānau are grateful to be alive after smoke alarms alerted them to a house fire that took hold as they slept.

The family of nine, including young children, have been left shell-shocked and homeless after their house on Tapper Crescent in Tikipunga caught fire on Saturday morning just before 8.30am.

Whangārei mother Serena Ratahi, 24, was asleep in the house with her children aged 1, 3 and 5, and five cousins in their 20s when she woke to the sound of smoke alarms and alerted everyone to the blaze.

Serena’s mum Simone Benioni, who lives in Ōkaihau, got a phone call from a concerned neighbour and immediately drove south to help.

“She [Serena] heard the alarm and looked to her left where her baby was sleeping and that was where the fire was,” Benioni said.

“When she saw it she got up and woke everyone up.

“She was running around screaming at them to wake up.

“They managed to get a child each and run outside, then the flames were coming out the window.

“By the time the fire brigade got there, everything was ablaze.”

Four fire trucks and up to 20 firefighters battled the blaze, which is believed to have broken out in the living room.

The Housing New Zealand property has been left “totally uninhabitable” a fire investigator said.

Benioni said the family had no contents insurance and have lost “everything”.

“I’m just thankful everyone made it out in time, if wasn’t for smoke alarms, they wouldn’t have made it out, they were all sleeping.”

Benioni said it was her autistic son’s 10th birthday on Saturday, and they were all set to gather for his birthday barbecue when she heard about the incident.

“Once I got the phone call I jumped in the car and left everything.”

Fire and Emergency NZ fire investigator Gary Beer said multiple calls were received at around 8.20am.

The house was “well-involved” when firefighters arrived, he said.

It was lucky someone woke up to the smoke alarms and helped the others escape.

“It showed the worth of having smoke detectors. That gave them the time they needed to get out in time.

“Working smoke alarms have helped saved this family.”

The family is currently staying in emergency housing in Whangārei.

Benioni said they have been inundated with offers of help.

Neighbours have dropped off bags of clothing, food and blankets and there have been offers of fridges, beds and mattresses.

“As the fire was still getting put out all the neighbours came over offering kai. We had everyone from the street offering to help, because we were just stunned in that moment.

“They were saying ‘if there’s anything you need just tell us’, and I was like ‘where do I start?'”.

Beer reminded residents to have an escape plan, and take extra care with fireplaces and heaters now that it was winter.

Matches and lighters should always be kept out of reach of children, he said.

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