Cold flat may have contributed to fire deaths

Emergency services at the scene of the fatal fire in Waimate. Photo: ODT
Emergency services at the scene of the fatal fire in Waimate. Photo: ODT
The cold flat above the Everest Indian Restaurant in Queen St, Waimate, could have contributed to the deaths of three members of the Kafle family in a fire on the morning of August 5, 2015.

The Ministry of Justice yesterday released the findings of coroner Marcus Elliott, of Christchurch, into the deaths of Tej (49), Tika (42), and Prem Kafle (8).

In his findings, Mr Elliott noted ``battery-powered smoke alarms are more likely to function properly in a warm, insulated environment''.

Now-retired specialist fire investigator Kevin Collins' investigation showed there were no functional fire alarms in the flat.

He said most smoke alarms malfunctioned in extreme temperatures, including those below 4degC.

A smoke alarm installed in the hallway and one near the bottom of the stairs in the building had been disabled as they would have buzzed or emitted false alarm signals.

The Kafle family, of Waimate, (from left) Tulsi, unknown person, Manisha, Tej, Mamata, Tika and Prem. Photo: Facebook
The Kafle family, of Waimate, (from left) Tulsi, unknown person, Manisha, Tej, Mamata, Tika and Prem. Photo: Facebook

``We know that the flat was extremely cold and any smoke alarm would have likely been removed.''

While the exact cause of the fire was not known, it began in an electric kettle in a small kitchen where the family, originally from Nepal, used to make tea in the morning.

The father, mother and their youngest son were survived by three sisters: Tulsi, Manisha and Mamata.

The three sisters were all asleep in the same bedroom with the door closed.

They managed to escape to the building's roof after the oldest, Tulsi, woke earliest, opened the bedroom door and saw the fire and then smashed a bedroom window to allow her two younger sisters to escape.

Tulsi called out for her father, who did not answer. Manisha used her cellphone to call 111. She also tried to call her father, who did not answer, Mr Elliott's findings state.

Because the upstairs flat was cold, the small upstairs kitchen with a plastic electric kettle, microwave and a portable electric cooktop was not used for making the family's main meals, which were cooked in the restaurant downstairs.

``Tulsi Kafle told the police that the family had been planning to move to another home. The flat was cold during winter, with no heating system. The family would spend most of their time downstairs because it was warmer, only going upstairs to sleep,'' Mr Elliott's report said.

The report noted there was no legal reason for it not to be rented at the time.

Christchurch funeral service for Tej Kafle ,Tika Kafle and Pream Kafle, who died in a fire at...
Christchurch funeral service for Tej Kafle ,Tika Kafle and Pream Kafle, who died in a fire at their home in Waimate in August, 2015. Photo: NZME

Mr Collins found a partially melted clock in the parents' bedroom that had stopped at 7.38am - three minutes before the first call to emergency services was made.

Mrs Kafle and her son, Prem, were both dressed when they died. Prem was wearing his school uniform. Prem died of carbon monoxide poisoning, as did his father.

Mrs Kafle died because of the inhalation of smoke and fumes with significant carbon monoxide.

Mr Elliott noted in his findings the risk of death or injury due to a fire was reduced when small appliances such as kettles were monitored when being used and then turned off at the wall or socket after use.

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