Tragedy strikes grieving family

BLAIR ENSOR, NEIL RATLEY AND LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 17/03/2014
stl house fire
NICOLE GOURLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

AFTERMATH: The scene of a fatal house fire on the Bluff road yesterday.

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Hours after marking the two-year anniversary of the Easy Rider tragedy, a grieving family's house was on fire and a woman was dead.

Thirteen people escaped from the burning home in Invercargill after a passerby saw the flames and banged on the door about 4.45am, yesterday.

However, a 45-year-old woman died in a caravan behind the house on Bluff Highway near the Kew Rd intersection, police said. Three adults and four children were taken to Southland Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

Police and the fire service are investigating the cause of the fire.

Relatives said Cora Maere and her children lived at the home. Her son, Odin Karetai, 7, and partner, Paul Fowler- Karetai, 40, died when the Easy Rider capsized in Foveaux Strait in 2012.

The second anniversary of the tragedy, which claimed the lives of eight people, was on Saturday.

A source close to the family told Fairfax Media Maere had been out "having a few drinks for the boat" and returned home before the fire started.

People at the house were "devastated and shocked" that someone had died, the source said.

"It's another tragedy and when does it stop for this family?"

Tawhiri Karetai, the older brother of Easy Rider skipper Rewai Karetai, said the fire "just opens up old wounds of the boat".

"How can you rebuild from being kicked down . . . every March for the last three years," Karetai said. "If I could pick the lotto numbers I'd be giving it to those families and saying ‘here's your luck, it's changed'."

Maere had lost everything and spent last night in a motel with her children, he said.

"It's just another tragedy.

"Add it to the tail end of another story about the Easy Rider."

The family have received many offers of help on Facebook.

Southern District Command Centre Senior Sergeant Matt Scoles said the passerby who banged on the door of the burning home potentially saved the lives of several other people.

"It is a tragedy of the highest order," he said.

"Under the circumstances, we might be lucky there weren't others in a more serious condition."

The fire started in the caravan and spread to the nearby house. False ceilings made fighting the fire difficult, authorities said.

A group gathered outside the house yesterday afternoon and were shown on to the property. They emerged crying and hugging each other, but did not comment to media.

Police said the body had been removed from the caravan yesterday afternoon but the name of the victim would not be released until the body had been formally identified.

Investigators were returning to the scene today.

Meri Leask, from Bluff Fishermen's Radio, said family and friends of the eight people who perished on the Easy Rider let off Chinese lanterns to commemorate the second anniversary at Stirling Point in Bluff on Saturday evening.

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- The Southland Times

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