'I can't see anything' - fire victim's chilling last words

RACHEL ASKEW AND BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2014
THIS MORNING: The scene of a fatal house fire in South Otago where a 48-year-old man died.

THIS MORNING: The scene of a fatal house fire in South Otago where a 48-year-old man died.

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"I can't see a thing, I can't even see where I'm going."

Those were the last words from Thomas Tamitei Huiateroa as his friends and family tried in vain to save him from his burning South Otago house on Saturday night.

Huiateroa, 48, was known as Tom or Turtle to his mates.

Yesterday, family and friends were still trying to process the shock of his death.

Neighbour Lisa Wereta, who lives about 500 metres away, said she went outside to bring the pigs inside and saw the sparks.

"I just absolutely screamed for people to ring the fire brigade, saying Tom's house is on fire."

She jumped in her car and drove to the house on Riverbank Rd, Inch Clutha.

"I woke him up and spoke to him through the window, but I had to stand back, the heat was so intense," she said.

"I said you need to get out, the house is on fire."

"[He said] ‘I can't see a thing, I can't even see where I'm going' and that's the last thing I heard," she said.

She could not see Huiateroa through the flames and smoke, but she could hear him.

She believed he tried to make his way up the hallway, which was where police found him, she said.

Wereta could hear gas bottles exploding and said the whole roof had ignited.

"There was heaps of smoke, the windows were popping."

Huiateroa's partner Joanne McDiarmid also tried to save him.

"I saw the fire and I went over there. I actually smashed a window to try and get my partner out. There was too much smoke," she said through tears.

The couple's dog and all their belongings were lost in the fire.

"[He] was a lovely person. He was kind-hearted and just loved by everybody. He'd do anything for you," McDiarmid said.

A fire communications spokesman said multiple calls were made to 111, and fire crews from Balclutha, Milton and Owaka were called to help fight the blaze.

Huiateroa had been with family and friends remembering Lisa Wereta's brother-in-law, Kendrick Wereta, who was killed in a car crash in the North Island in 2012.

Her husband Kim Wereta said Huiateroa left the group and went back to his house, saying "I'll only be ten minutes bro".

Police said they did not believe the fire was suspicious. Investigators were at the scene yesterday.

The death has been referred to the coroner.

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- The Press

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