Coroner pushes for hard-wired alarms

Last updated 13:50 17/02/2014

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The death of an Ethiopian woman in an Auckland house fire has prompted a coroner to recommend a new alarm system for immigrants who use fire or incense in the home.

Meme Tsige Woldeysus, who died on December 7 2011, was believed to have held coffee ceremonies at her house in Waterview, and may have disconnected the smoke alarms to do so.

Woldeysus died two weeks after moving into a Housing New Zealand home in Waterview with her five-year-old son.

A report from Coroner Katharine Grieg said Woldeysus, a recent immigrant to New Zealand, was alone in the home in the time.

The fire started in the bedroom, neighbours called the Fire Service and help arrived at 10.30am. However, the house was heavily ablaze. When the fire was extinguished, Woldeysus was found dead. An autopsy found she died of smoke in inhalation.

There were no working smoke alarms in the property - one had the battery disabled and another was placed in a cupboard.

Coroner Greig said there was evidence Woldeysus held Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies in her living room.

The ceremonies involve roasting beans over hot coals in a brazier, and the use of incense.

The coroner said this could explain why the smoke alarms were tampered with. She said hard-wired alarms would reduce the chance of an alarm failure, because they could be "hushed" in the case of a false alarm.

She recommended Housing New Zealand consider tailoring its response to the Ethiopian community to prevent similar incidents in the future.

A hard-wired alarm trial was under way, the report said.

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