Trapped shopper feared Doha repeat

EMMA WHITTAKER
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2012
Rose French
JASON OXENHAM / Fairfax NZ
ROSE FRENCH: Trapped in the Cotton On shop while the Westfield St Lukes was evacuated.

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A woman locked in a shop at Westfield St Lukes during a fire feared the incident could have turned into the Doha mall blaze that killed 19.

Rose French was trying on clothes in Cotton On earlier this month when the mall was evacuated after a vehicle burst into flames in the car park.

She had been in the fitting room for some time when she walked back into the shop to find it empty and its roller door bolted shut.

French didn't initially panic. The music was still playing in the store and she hadn't heard an alarm or been asked to leave.

''I thought they must have a really cruisy manager and they've just closed up," she said.

''Then I thought, 'Wait a minute, I can't open the door. Oh my God, there are no lights on and there's nobody outside'.

''Then I smelt smoke coming and I could hear sirens.''

French's mind quickly turned to May's Doha blaze that claimed the lives of Kiwi triplets Lillie, Willsher and Jackson Weekes.

She began jumping around frantically and eventually managed to catch the attention of a fire warden who tried to break down the door.

Eventually the Cotton On shop assistant was found and came back to unlock it.

French said the assistant seemed oblivious to how serious the situation was.

''She said, 'I hope you guys didn't buckle my door or you'll be paying for it', and then she laughed.''

French had to go back into the shop to get her own clothes back after the mall was given the all clear.

She wants Westfield and Cotton On to acknowledge the incident shouldn't have happened and proper protocol wasn't followed.

''I wasn't hurt, but what about the next people?'' she said. ''It only takes one person to slip up and people can die.''

Westfield New Zealand's general manager Linda Trainer said she appreciated the incident had been distressing for French and the company was looking into what happened.

''Westfield takes shoppers' and retailers' safety seriously. It is a primary focus of our operations,'' she said.

Trainer said the company has regular fire drills which are audited by independent safety officers and Westfield's own risk management team.

She said fire wardens were responsible for clearing common areas but individual shops needed to make sure their customers were safely evacuated.

A Cotton On spokesperson said the company was investigating.

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- Auckland Now

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