Men in court over fatal house fire

The two-storey house was well alight when emergency services arrived at the scene. Photo supplied Mike Rowse

A trial date has been set in the case of two men charged with murder over a fatal house fire in east Auckland.

Wiremu Arapo, 27, died following the blaze at his Cockle Bay home on October 20 last year.

Emergency services were called to the two-storey property in Minerva Terrace just before 7pm.

Two other people injured in the incident were taken to Middlemore Hospital by St John Ambulance paramedics.

Counties Manukau East Police initially announced that after liaising with NZ Fire and Emergency investigators, they were not treating the fire as suspicious and would refer it to the coroner to examine.

However, on November 19 last year, acting detective senior sergeant Craig Bolton said a homicide investigation was under way into the fire.

“As is standard procedure, police began making enquiries into the death on behalf of the coroner,” he said.

“As our enquiries into the circumstances of Mr Arapo’s death have progressed and following a post mortem examination, it has now led police to treat the matter as suspicious.

“A team of investigators has now been assembled to work on the enquiry.”

Bolton called for people with information on the fire to contact police.

Less than one month later, on December 8, he announced police had arrested two 32-year-old men and charged them with Arapo’s murder.

The pair appeared in the Manukau District Court the following day as police publicly appealed for people who had video footage of the fire to submit it to investigators.

The two men, who have name suppression, subsequently appeared in the Auckland High Court on March 31.

One of the pair is being held in custody while the other is on bail.

A trial date was set down to start on March 7 next year and is expected to take four weeks.

Fire investigators work at the scene of a fatal blaze that broke out at a house in Minerva Terrace, Cockle Bay, on Tuesday night. Times photo Wayne Martin

Neighbour Mike Rowse was home watching television with his wife and son when they heard the fire break out next door on October 20.

Rowse said at the time his family “heard some popping going off” and initially thought it was fireworks.

“Then we heard our landlord upstairs yelling and my wife said, ‘Did he just say the house is on fire?’

“We opened up the front door and looked across and could see flames and the smoke drifting out across [the property].”

Rowse phoned 111 while his wife and son ran up their driveway to see what was happening next door.

He then heard fire appliances arriving at the scene.

“I could see [at the neighbouring property] a fella running around.

“He just had shorts on and was running up the back steps and he was yelling.

“Then I heard my wife say, ‘Get out of the house, get out of the house’, and I then heard him say there’s someone inside. She said, ‘Get out!’

“My wife said he was apparently trying to get a blanket over his head to go back into the house.

“By that time I had got off the phone and came back down to put some shoes on in case I had to hop the fence and go and lend a hand.

“I saw another guy who was fully clothed. He ran around the side of the house and was looking pretty panicked.

“Then the fire service arrived and started getting into their work and putting the fire out.”