Residents of a “multi-tenant town” near Byron Bay were devastated by a house fire that claimed the lives of two girls.
Residents of a town near Byron Bay have been devastated after a house fire claimed the lives of two four-year-old girls over the weekend.
Twins Ophelia and Tarrow died from smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in the room where they slept in a ‘multi-occupant common’ in Goonengerry.
Emergency services were called to the scene shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday. Paramedics from NSW Ambulance attempted to perform CPR on the sisters, but they could not be resuscitated and were pronounced dead at the scene.
It is understood that the girls were spending the weekend with their father, James Wright, in the town where his girlfriend lives, and their mother, Akira Garton, only learned of their deaths when police called later Sunday morning. .
Investigators believe the fatal fire may have been started by a candle left on a piano in the room where the girls slept.
Police are investigating whether the candle could have smoldered the piano and created plumes of toxic smoke.
The house where the girls slept is one of 20 properties in the township, which spans 100 acres of farmland in the Byron Bay hinterland.
The commune was established over 30 years ago and is located approximately 15 minutes from Mullumbimby and 30 minutes from Byron Bay.
Aerial footage shot by 7News shows a series of houses scattered across the property.
There does not appear to be a driveway or fence separating the houses and cars are parked haphazardly throughout the area.
A local said Australia Daily Mail the commune was “like a family”.
“They are all so grieving right now,” they said.
According to the post, the community relies on a water reservoir at the center of the property, with residents pooling resources where possible.
A listing from Nunkeri Farm on WWOOF, a platform that connects volunteer workers with organic farmers for homestays, describes the property as having “abundant wildlife and many species of birds.”
“Gently sloping, facing northwest with swimming holes in the stream. Lots of interesting neighbors involved in creative projects, especially music. Working towards sustainability, ”the list says.
The host says he is a shareholder of the “multi-use property” and says that the work available includes the upkeep of the vegetable garden and orchard, weeding, mulching, composting, raking, new plantings, animal care, bamboo construction and rock garden work.
The listing indicates that various accommodations are available for a maximum of four people, including in a caravan, cabin, tipi or studio.
“Prefer stays of at least 10 days, with a view to a longer stay (a month or more) if things go well”, we can read on the site.
Byron Shire Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye said 7News that members of the “tight-knit” community had been hit hard by the tragedy.
“These backcountry communities are very united, and I think anyone who hears about it cannot help but be absolutely touched by the tragedy,” she said.
It was reported that members of the township, including Mr Wright and his partner, were witnessing a bonfire on the property when the fire broke out in the bedroom where the girls were sleeping.
The investigation into the tragedy continues
Mr Wright was reportedly “inconsolable” after the horrific incident, collapsing to the floor and shouting “no” when he returned home to find smoke billowing from the girls’ room, according to The daily telegraph.
“He was on the ground on his knees, he was shouting ‘no no’, he was inconsolable,” a woman from the town told the publication.
She said Mr. Wright loved his daughters and “took them everywhere with him”.
The girls’ father is well known in the region for his political activism and ran as the Ballina candidate for the independent political party Keep Sydney Open in 2019.
7News reports that a lawyer acting on behalf of the mother of the twins, Akira Garton, has asked investigators to determine why Ophelia and Tarrow were unattended at the time of the fire.
There is no suggestion that Mr. Wright did anything wrong.
“She wants to know why the children weren’t taken into care,” a friend said The daily telegraph.
“She is strangely calm, yet heartbroken. She went to the commune yesterday and said she needed to see where her daughters had died.
Police Superintendent Dave Roptell did not confirm who noticed the smoke first and sounded the alarm when asked for information that a party had been held nearby when the incident occurred.
“There were people present near the scene of the incident,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“People at the scene came in to check and saw what they saw and the police were called.
“We are conducting further investigations to find out who actually identified the situation in the first place.”
Investigations into the tragic incident continue, with Tweed / Byron Police detectives working with fire investigators.