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Fire destroys Titikaveka home

Tuesday 8 March 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Local, National


Fire destroys Titikaveka home
It took firefighters three hours to get the blaze under control. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS/22030717

A Rarotonga mother of six has been hailed a hero after rushing into a blazing inferno to rescue her son.

Terepai Upu remains humble despite her family losing their possessions, aside from a passport retrieved from the wreckage of the blaze by her daughter Paulina Nui U’a, who managed to fly out to New Zealand yesterday following the frightening experience.

Their Titikaveka home went up in flames on Saturday just before noon.

Upu was in the vicinity of the house when a neighbour discovered smoke coming from a rear bedroom window.

She managed to round a number of children up who were in the surrounding area and do a head count when she discovered her 11-year-old son was missing.

He was asleep in the house.

“There were flames everywhere, all I was thinking was ‘Lord, let me get to my son’.”

Upu said she covered her face with a towel as she entered the smoke-filled house, barely able to open her eyes or see anything.

“I pushed him on his chest, I dragged him out, I pulled him out.”

Rarotonga Airport Fire Service manager George Nicholls has labelled her actions heroic.

“I just did what I did to save my son,” Upu said.

Nicholls said the Fire Service was alerted to the blaze by police about 11.50am on Saturday.

Terepai Upu, left, and her daughter Paulina Nui U’a at Rarotonga International Airport on Monday with the passport, the only thing retrieved from the blaze. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS/22030714

Rarotonga Airport Fire Service sent a truck and alerted volunteer brigades at Titikaveka and Puaikura to the blaze, just inland from the Turoa Bakery.

The Puaikura fire chief was first on the scene and reported the house well ablaze as the roof had collapsed.

Nicholls said the airport truck, with three fire fighters and water on board, arrived at the scene shortly after 12 noon.

Two off duty staff arrived shortly afterwards and were then supported by a tanker with three firefighters from the Titikaveka brigade.

No one was injured and the area was clear of people, he said.

Another appliance from Puaikura, also with water on board then arrived.

Four low pressure and two high pressure hoses were applied to the blaze - the crews spent about three hours getting the blaze under control.

Nicholls said a neighbour discovered the blaze at the rear of the house after seeing smoke and discovered all the windows had been blown out when he got to the scene.

He used buckets of water to try and douse the flames while children in the vicinity were crying.

Upu was at a neighbouring property and heard the commotion when she rushed to attend to the children.

It was only during early investigations into the blaze on Sunday that Nicholls discovered her brave actions.

“She is a hero, she saved the life of a child. I am proud of what she did.”

Investigations also uncovered a cause of the blaze, which Nicholls said, should sound a warning to everyone on Rarotonga and the outer islands.

“Every time you charge your cell phone you should be there to monitor it.

“Never charge it while you are sleeping or if you are out, and never use your phone while it is connected to the charger.”

He said the owner of the house had left the property earlier in the day, leaving his phone connected to the charger, in his locked bedroom. The phone then exploded.

Upu’s daughter Paulina Nui U’a, who was also away from the property at the time of the blaze returned home to find little remains in the charred rubble.

She was due to fly out to New Zealand on Monday and panicked.

“I was scared.”

While standing in the location which was previously her bedroom, she spotted part of her passport and with the help of her uncle, reached out and retrieved it.

“There was no damage, it was just a bit wet.

“Our home was gone in under 30 minutes and we lost everything, the only thing that was retrieved from the fire was my passport, not a single burn on it, nothing.

“It was just wet from the fire hoses, and I needed it because I was leaving on Monday.

“I guess our Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Upu and the rest of her family are now staying in a community hall at Titikaveka where they are receiving ongoing support from friends, family and the wider community.