Regional | Death

Whānau pay tribute to best friends killed in Hillpark house fire

Photo: Supplied

This article was first published by RNZ.

Whānau of the men killed in an Auckland house fire on Monday, say the pair were best friends who were “joined at the hip”.

Kiwa Ropitini-Fairburn, 25, and Tony Marsters, 24, died in the blaze on Freshney Place in Hillpark, shortly before 7am on Monday.

The pair had been living at the home with their friend, who survived the fire, and was in Middlemore Hospital recovering from serious burns,

Ropitini-Fairburn had been a “loved member” of Kaihaka Kapa Haka group, founder and owner Eru Rarere-Wilton said.

He noted Ropitini-Fairburn travelled to places, including China and Italy, to perform with the group.

“Kiwa was my wife’s nephew and lived with us for a bit before moving into that house with his best friends.”

Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Rarere-Wilton said he was at the hospital with other whānau members of Ropitini-Fairburn, while they waited for his body to be released to them.

“It’s all come as a shock. He was such a loving and beautiful soul and so talented.

“He had an amazing singing voice and when we were in China they all called him the karaoke king.”

Learning of the death of Ropitini-Fairburn and Marsters was “deeply saddening”, Rarere-Wilton said.

Parents of the sole survivor of the fire spoke to journalists at the scene on Monday, and said they were “devastated” by the deaths of their son’s friends.

Pana Rangitaawa, the survivor’s dad, said his son was expected to recover although he would need plastic surgery.

Photo: RNZ / Melanie Earley

“I don’t know what to say ... I’m waiting for other family to arrive. We still don’t know what’s actually happened,” he said through his tears.

He said his mother and his 91-year-old grandmother usually lived at the house along with the three others.

Passerby saved man from fire

Jonathan Asafo, who lives two minutes from the fire scene, was on his way to drop off his son in daycare when he saw the flames.

“I saw the whole house on fire and then I quickly reversed back and seeing as no one was on the road and no one knew the house was on fire, I quickly ... drove up the driveway and I started tooting my horn and then calling, running around for any response.”

He saw a truck in the driveway, and with flames coming out of the house he ran to the neighbour’s house and alerted them.

By the time he returned, a survivor had made it onto the back lawn. He had been sleeping downstairs, but he feared for his two friends who had been sleeping upstairs, Asafo said.

The young man was in shock, and the skin had burnt off his hands, Asafo said.

Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

He escaped the fire after hearing Asafo’s horn.

“He quickly went through the back door ... [he was] fully in shock.”

Auckland councillor Daniel Newman, who had dealt with the family previously on storm water issues, said the deaths were devastating.

He said the family were engaged members of the community.

Police and fire investigators were still working to determine how the fire started.