Girlfriend mourns after man dies in fire

DEIDRE MUSSEN AND PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013
Ben McBride, Renee Johnson and their daughters
Supplied
LOST TO THE FLAMES: Ben McBride, pictured, died in a fire on Saturday. Also pictured is his partner Renee Johnson and their children, Mia, now 3, Ruby, now 9 months, and dog Patch.

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The girlfriend of a West Coast man who died in a fire yesterday says the love for their two young children is all that is holding her together.

The body of Ben McBride, 25, was found by volunteer firefighters in the early hours of yesterday in a shed at the back of the house he shared with Renee Johnson and their daughters in Kaniere, 2km from Hokitika.

He died despite the frantic efforts of a neighbour who tried to fight the fire with a garden hose.

Yesterday, Renee Johnson, 24, said she was in disbelief.

"It doesn't seem real at the moment. I'm going through all sorts of feelings."

The couple had been together since she was 17, she said. They have two daughters, Mia, 3, and Ruby, nine months.

"The girls are keeping us together, we have to be strong for them. I'm just so glad I have two children with him," she said.

McBride, an excavator driver, was "always happy", she said.

He loved hunting and fishing, spending time with his family, and he loved a good yarn. "He had a lot of mates."

She didn't want to talk about the events of Saturday morning.

"All we know for sure is that there was a shed fire and that Ben has passed away."

The couple's friends and family were rallying around Johnson and the girls yesterday.

In the tight-knit community, it was Johnson's father Wayne, a volunteer firefighter, who had been preparing to go to the blaze when she called him.

"He came straight over in a car instead."

A neighbour who had tried to fight the fire with a garden hose said she was devastated by the tragedy.

The woman, who declined to be named, woke to hear loud cracking noises, and was about to look outside when Johnson knocked on her window.

She begged for help, saying she feared her partner was trapped in the blazing shed.

"I jumped the fence with the hose but it was too big for that . . . The flames were huge. It went up so quick," the neighbour said.

"I yelled and yelled for him but I couldn't go in it. I feel devastated. You do what you have to do and then it hits you. I'm really sorry for them. It's unbelievable."

McBride had been out with a friend that evening, she said. "We didn't know if he was in there or not. We were really hoping he wasn't."

Fire Service West Coast area commander Mark Boere said it was the first fatal fire in the region for five years.

The Fire Service and police are investigating.

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- Sunday Star Times

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