'I didn't think we would make it'
A woman who rescued a baby and toddler from a burning van thought it would explode, killing them all.
Palmerston North mother of two Tamsin Duckmanton is being hailed a hero after braving the flames to free the trapped children.
The young children, aged 10 months and 3 years, had been left in a van in the Palmerston North Pak'n Save car park while their mother went to a pharmacy to pick up medication yesterday, Palmerston North fire station officer Bevan Clark said.
A 7-year-old was believed to be outside the van at the time of the fire.
Duckmanton, 26, was adamant any person would have set their own life aside and entered the inferno.
But there was a time when she didn't expect to get out with the baby and toddler alive.
Witness Sam Medhurst said a "fireball" engulfed the Toyota Previa, and staff from surrounding shops ran out with fire extinguishers.
Duckmanton was loading groceries into her car when her son called out to her about a fire across the car park.
"Then someone else yelled out 'there is a baby inside' so I just ran over," she said.
"There were guys all around a van trying to rip the car seats out, but I knew that wouldn't work so I jumped in and unbuckled them."
She said the flames were huge inside the van and her eyeballs dried within seconds.
"There were two kids in the back... one in the first row of seats and one was further back," she said.
"When I went to get the second one I thought the [van] would blow up.
"I didn't think we would make it.
"I had the baby in my arms while I was trying to unbuckle the toddler. It was terrifying."
Suffering from shock after the ordeal, Duckmanton said she did it because she was a mother. "But even if I wasn't a mother I would have done it," she said.
"I'm the one who is scared of everything but I panicked about them.
"Right now I'm just rapt they're alive and aren't seriously burnt.
"When I got the baby out she looked bad but she's OK - just a bit of her head is burnt and one of her hands where it was in the flames."
Duckmanton said the mother of the children thanked her and said she couldn't believe what had happened.
St John Ambulance treated two children and one adult for smoke inhalation and burns.
Palmerston North Acting Senior Sergeant Steve Crawford said the baby was taken to hospital for observation.
"The Fire Service is investigating the cause of the fire and we will make a decision on [any charges] when we hear back from them," he said.
"It was excellent work from the bystander and she probably saved the young kids' lives."
Crawford said police would follow up with Duckmanton to acknowledge her heroic efforts.
The Fire Service believed the fire was caused by an electrical fault.