Children saved but van fire 'harsh lesson'
The mother whose children were saved from a burning van by a stranger says the incident sends a warning to other parents who leave their children unattended in vehicles.
The Palmerston North woman, who declined to be named, said it was still surreal knowing her children were alive and OK after the blaze in the Palmerston North Pak'n Save car park on January 14.
The cause of the fire has been put down to children playing with matches.
Tamsin Duckmanton, who was loading groceries into her car nearby, heroically ran and climbed into the burning van to unstrap the woman's 3-year-old and 10-month-old from car seats.
A 7-year-old who was unrestrained had already managed to get free and call for help.
Constable Rickie Chubb said the investigation into the cause of the car fire had been completed.
"The full investigation has ruled out an initial observation that the fire may have been caused by an electrical fault," he said.
"Upon reviewing the findings of the investigation, both police and the fire service believe the fire was likely caused by the children playing with matches."
The woman had gone over in her mind how the fire might have been avoided.
"If I had done what I intended to do that morning, which was get out there and clean the van before I got to Palmy instead of saying I'll wait till I get to Mum's [house], the whole thing could have been avoided," she said.
"It's about vigilance in everything you do... because as far as the van is concerned, I don't even think about that, it's nothing."
The woman said she had put in a prescription at the Unichem Pharmacy that was expected to take about 20 minutes.
She waited in the car with her children but went back into the pharmacy for the last five minutes.
When someone in the pharmacy called out about the fire and she realised it was her van, she ran out to try to get her children.
"I went straight to the van and someone grabbed my shoulder and said ‘all the kids are out'. I said ‘are you sure, there were three' and he said ‘yeah, they're all out', because I was ready to get in, I was ready to open the van door and I wasn't thinking.
"I don't remember the first thing I said [to Tamsin], because we all got pushed back to the chemist and everyone was asking questions.
"But the first thing I asked her friend was what is her name, because I wasn't sure if I would get to talk to her."
Police are liaising with Ms Duckmanton to formally acknowledge her.
The woman said her entire family were taking a collective approach to acknowledging what happened. "It's a harsh lesson that we had to be woken up in such a way."
Fire Service Manawatu assistant area commander Rodger Calder said many serious fires were caused each year by children playing with matches and lighters.
"The fire service urges parents to keep matches and lighters well out of children's reach. Parents concerned about children's behaviour with fire can seek help from a fire service intervention programme," Mr Calder said.
Visit fire.org.nz/FAIP for details on this programme.