Elderly couple die in house fire

An elderly couple were killed in an early morning house fire at Tolaga Bay, on the East Coast 50km north of Gisborne.

The couple were living at the house in Uawa Parade, near the river in the township.

Tolaga Bay firefighters were called out at about 3.15am. The first body was found in the remains of the house at 10.15am and the second was located nearby at 11.20am. Both were found in a bedroom.

"We could see the flames as we headed to the fire station and when we arrived, the house was fully ablaze," said Tolaga Bay chief fire officer Ray Dever.

"We were able to cut the fire off from one side of the house but that was all we could do."

Fire chief Dever said there were immediate concerns for the safety of two elderly people who were known to be living in the home.

"They were house-sitting for their son."

It's understood the couple were in their late 70s or early 80s.

A fire crew from Gisborne went to the scene to relieve the Tolaga Bay volunteers.

Once the dampening down process had been completed, police and firefighters began to sift through the remains of the house in a search for the couple.

"It has been a difficult process," said assistant area fire commander Peter Clark.

"We started our search at about 9.30am once more resources had arrived.

"We found a body in a part of the house where a bedroom had been."

Extensive inquiries were made in the Tolaga Bay area to determine whether one of the elderly people might have been away from the house at the time.

"Tragically, we felt pretty sure that the bodies of both elderly people would be found in the remains of the house," Mr Clark said.

The body of the second fire victim was found an hour later.

The house was all but destroyed in the blaze.

"The roof is on the ground and only parts of two walls are still standing."

Detectives from Gisborne have started an inquiry into the fire.

"The cause is unknown at this stage and is being investigated in conjunction with specialist fire investigators," said Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Scott.

Neighbour Gwen Gordon told NZME she had seen the couple's vehicles at the house and she thought they were inside it last night.

"They were house-sitting for their son who lived in Australia and had only been at the property for three months.

"They were just lovely. It's terrible."

Uawa Parade resident Delys Hooper said the house was old but recently renovated.

"They'd done it all up, renovated it and cut down all the trees. It was looking flash.

"It's just horrible.

"I woke up when I heard all the sirens and went out the front of my house and couldn't see anything except the smoke.

"Then I went outside and just saw all the flames.

"The fire was huge."

- Murray Robertson and NZME

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