'I thought my kids were dead'
When Shane Hodges saw the flames and heard the screaming, his heart stopped.
He thought his wife and two young boys were trapped inside the inferno engulfing his home on a Southland dairy farm yesterday morning.
The intense and searing orange flames leapt from the roof and windows.
Hodges, a dairy worker, had been working in the paddock with his cows when he saw the glow and the smoke in the distance.
He feared the worst as he made a mad dash on his quad bike back to the brick house.
"I thought my kids were dead," Hodges said.
Putting his own life at risk, the frantic father squeezed through the small open window of his bedroom to try and get to his family.
"The heat, the flames and smoke were insane," he said. "I've never experienced anything like it before. It was so toxic."
The yelling and screaming came again but this time from outside.
"The kids and my wife were outside," a shaken Hodges said.
"I went from instant depression to complete relief."
Earlier, as the fire took hold, Hodges' wife Rebekah had tossed her 3-year-old and 5-year-old sons out the same window her husband later went in to find them.
"One went head first and the other feet first," he said.
Scamp the family fox terrier perished in the fire. He died of smoke inhalation lying on the floor beneath the boys' empty and unslept-in bunk beds.
Hodges said his sons had curled up and gone to sleep with their mum the night before the fire tore through the wall of their bedroom next to the kitchen.
It appeared the fire started in the kitchen some time after Hodges went to work at 5am.
"I slept on the couch because I had an early start and the boys slept in my bed. If they had been in their own beds, I think they would also have died from the smoke."
The fire had no mercy, he said.
Melted aluminium from the window frames hung from the sills like silver tears. Pots and pans lay among the ashes and the bunk beds and mattress springs were scorched skeletons visible through the blackened frames of destroyed walls.
The beeping of the smoke alarms installed several weeks ago woke his wife and gave her time to react, Hodges said.
"Just in the short time before waking up, Rebekah's nose and throat filled up with black stuff which she was coughing up."
Outside where some of his children's toys lay scattered and unscathed, Hodges said while the family had lost almost everything, they had survived and would pick up the pieces.
The family had moved into the house on the Riverton Otautau Road dairy farm, owned by Southland District councillor Rodney Dobson, about six weeks ago.
The contents insurance had not been transferred.
The surrounding community had already gathered together to support the newcomers.
"People are already donating things we need and have taken us in," Hodges said.
Fire investigator Mike Harrison said the cause of the fire was not known but it was not suspicious.
- The Southland Times