6 Aug 2015

Fire tragedy family moved to NZ for better life

1:01 pm on 6 August 2015

The Kafle family were considering relocating after more than a year living above their Waimate restaurant, before a fatal fire ripped through their home.

Tika, Pram and Tej Kafle.

Left to right: Tika, Praem and Tej Kafle Photo: Facebook

Tej Kafle, his wife Tika and their young son Praem died in the blaze yesterday morning. The couple's three daughters were rescued.

The cause of the fire is still to be determined but the Fire Service said initial indications were that it was a tragic accident.

Investigators believe it started in the kitchen of the five-bedroomed accommodation area above the group of shops.

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The fire broke out above the Everest Indian Restaurant Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

Fire crews had not found any indication of working smoke alarms.

Tika Kafle and her son were found in one of the property's bedrooms, while Tej Kafle was found in the hallway.

"I'm almost certain they looked as though they were trying to get out of the house," said Paul Henderson, Fire Service Mid and South Canterbury Area Commander.

The couple's three daughters - understood to be Tulsa, 23, Manisha, 17 and Mamata, 10 - managed to escape by smashing a bedroom window and climbing out onto the roof.

Two local supermarket workers came to their rescue and all five were on the roof when fire crews arrived at the Everest Restaurant on Queen St shortly before 8am.

Shock in the Nepalese community

The tragic deaths have shocked the close-knit Nepalese community and the small town of Waimate.

Nepalese man Amarat Pal Singh stayed with the Kafle family when he moved to Waimate about nine months ago and said they loved living in the area.

"They were friendly and very welcoming, they only knew me through a friend and let me stay in their home...I will never forget that."

He said he spoke to Mr Kafle only a few days ago, who told him he wanted to find a new home for his family to live in.

He said Mr Kafle moved to Auckland from Nepal about nine years ago.

"He moved to New Zealand by himself and saved up to bring the rest of his family here for a better life."

He said Mr Kafle worked as a roofer in Christchurch before moving to Waimate to start his own business.

"They love Waimate, he was very proud, he was doing what he loved, owning his own restaurant and providing food for the community," Mr Singh said.

"Tej loved his son. After having three daugters, little Praem could do no wrong."

Mr Singh said he had been in touch with the extended family, who were in shock.

He said they would start thinking about funeral arrangements soon.

The three daughters were treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries at Timaru Hospital, and were discharged yesterday evening.

Non-Resident Nepali Association president Chakra Thapan said they would move back to Christchurch and live with their uncle, Bishnu Kafle.

"We are all so sad," he told Radio New Zealand last night.

Mr Thapan said the Nepalese community was "strong" and would do all they could to support the family.

The local community speaks out

Locals who walked past the scene of the fire on Waimate's Queen St were shocked and saddened by the deaths, paying their respects to the Kafle family by laying flowers and saying prayers outside the restaurant.

A Waimate resident paying tribute to the  Kafle family outside their restaurant, Everest Indian Restaurant.

A Waimate resident places flowers outside the restaurant. Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

"They were a lovely family, they kept to themselves but always said hello to everyone," one Waimate resident said.

Waimate Main School Principal Adam Rivett said children and staff had reacted with shock and sadness.

Praem and his 10-year-old sister both attended the school.

Mr Rivett said a Ministry of Education trauma incident team had been at the school, and the children had been told about the fire and the deaths.

He said the children had been given time to grieve and come to terms with the news, but some were too young to understand.

Waimate District Mayor Craig Rowley said the family had been in Waimate for about 18 months, and offers of help for the survivors were flooding in.

"I know them reasonably well, because I actually own the shop next door to them and they're a hard-working immigrant family from Nepal," said Mr Rowley.

An Everest Mayoral Support Fund has been set up at the Waimate ANZ bank for anyone who wanted to make a donation. By mid morning the fund had raised more than $6500.