Mum and baby get out just in time

Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014

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A mother awoke just in time to flee for her life with her baby in her arms, seconds after their Porirua flat was engulfed by flames, destroying everything they owned.

Five tenants, including two babies, have little left but each other and the clothes on their backs after the fire gutted their Cannons Creek flat yesterday.

Katie Willis and her 8-month-old son Corbin Smith were home alone, sleeping inside the flat when a text message disturbed her. She had got out of bed to take a shower and then the smoke alarm sounded.

She peered into the lounge to determine the cause of the racket and was horrified to see the room was already well alight. She scooped up Corbin and rushed to a side door to escape.

"Once I opened the door there was a huge bang," she said.

The house was consumed by the flames within about 20 seconds.

She was tearfully counting her blessings yesterday as she reflected on what might have happened if she hadn't been woken by the text message.

"I'm a really heavy sleeper. If it hadn't gone off, I would have slept through it," she said. "That's what I keep thinking about."

Corbin had been diagnosed with epilepsy, and Ms Willis said: "It's been a hard year."

Firefighters were called to the single-storey house about 12.40pm. The home was fully ablaze when they arrived, and it took about 30 minutes to extinguish the fire.

Singed curtains and a blackened interior were visible from outside the destroyed flat, and the smell of charred timber and plastic filled the street.

Its occupants and their supporters huddled, tearful, in the rain as firefighters inspected the wreckage.

Tenant Karauna Aitofo said there was great relief no-one was hurt in the fire, but their thoughts soon turned to the possessions they had lost.

"This is us," Mrs Aitofo said, gesturing at the clothes on their backs. "Everything is in there. They're just things, but it's photos and stuff really. They're all gone."

The tenants were frantically trying to contact their landlords, who they said lived in Australia, and said they hoped their insurance would cover their lost possessions.

Initial examinations suggested the fire started in the lounge and rapidly spread to the kitchen and a bedroom, senior station officer Trevor Sheehan of Porirua said.

Fire safety investigators would be looking into the cause.

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- The Timaru Herald

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