A fiery blaze in the small town of Kaihu has destroyed the home and livelihood of a “beautiful” family of five – and the Gas station that locals rely upon daily.
Located 30 minutes outside Dargaville in Kaipara, the local service stationwas the home and business of Sukhmeet Singh and Manjeet Kaur, but now the couple and their three young children find themselves with no home or income.
After seeing smoke coming from one of the rooms, Singh called for aid, shortly before the phone stopped working.
A distraught Kaur told the Advocate on Wednesday morning that she had just served dinner to her three children aged 18 months, 4 and 6 when the lights and TV in the home all turned off.
They made their way outside and shortly afterwards locals Jim and Sue Rawhiti arrived after hearing about the fire through their son, who is a volunteer firefighter.
The pair said at that point there was some smoke coming from the house but when it started going “it went quick”.
They also witnessed another community member tying a rope around a shelf of gas cylinders and moving them away from the building and said moments like that highlight how the community sees the opportunity to help out as a no-brainer.
The family are unharmed but shattered by the loss, which happened around four years after they took on the business in search of a better life.
Their business, two vehicles and home have been wrecked by the blaze.
Kaur is devastated at the loss of her certificates from her education. She is a software engineer and was working on completing a PhD.
She also tearfully told the Advocate she doesn’t know how she will get in touch with her or Singh’s family, who are all in India.
“Everything is gone,” she said.
Sue Rawhiti said when she took the children and Kaur away from the fire, the tamariki were worried about their belongings, such as a beloved Spider-Man bag.
Jim Rawhiti believes that by the time fire crews arrived, they were “severely limited” in what they could do after a 30-minute drive to the site of the blaze.
Fire investigators concluded that the Gas Kaihu fire was not suspicious, saying a fault in one of the freezers in the shop is to blame.
Investigator Craig Bain said his team had a “rough idea” when they went into the building after the fire.
He said it looked “very much” like the fault was from a glass door freezer in the gas station shop.
The fire would have spread from that area, hitting the ceiling and fanning out across it, burning the building as it went, Bain explained.
Bain has been a fire investigator for 30 years and said while “all fires are significant”, this one will place “huge stress” on the community.
“This is a focal hub out in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Chairman of Waikaraka Marae, Munual Te Rore, said his property backs on to the family business, and he saw the blaze after receiving a call from a relative who informed him.
“I looked out the back and saw the flames coming up,” he said.
By the time Te Rore got there around 9.15pm “the thing was in a fireball” and three fire engines were there, as well as a police vehicle.
He said the smell of chemicals mixed with tyres was overwhelming and he could feel immense heat coming off the fire.
“The building was so old so it just went up like a matchstick,” he said.
Te Rore, whose mother used to work in the same building in the 70s, is dismayed at the devastation and said it would impact the local community hugely.
“The community is going to be without a garage, we’re going to have to go into Dargaville, but the main thing is that the family is safe,” he said.
Te Rore described the family as “beautiful” and the kids as “lovely”.
He said that only recently the family had installed $10,000 security doors after two robberies.
He had recently organised himself and some other volunteers from the community to be stationed outside the business from 11pm until 6am as security as well.
One of the children would not fall asleep until he knew there was security outside the business.
Singh said the catastrophe is the latest in a spate of misfortunes that have plagued his family, including Cyclone Gabrielle and robberies, one where the stolen items were Magnum icecreams.
It is yet to be determined whether the incident was arson, an electrical fault or something else, but Singh said regardless of the outcome, he just wants to know what caused the fire.
In the meantime, the community has created a hub in the local hall, where people are donating blankets and food. A meeting at Kaihu Hall was also organised prior to the fire, which will now focus on how the community can help the family.
Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie recently graduated from Massey University and has a special interest in the environment and investigative reporting.