Family shocked at loss of patriarch in fire

A family of Vaisa'ulu and Lalomalava in Savai'i is still trying to come to terms with the tragic loss of their father, grandfather and great-grandfather who perished in a fire on Wednesday morning.

Maugā Tauali'i, 89, died in a fire in the early hours of Wednesday which also burnt the family home and car and has left everyone shocked and devastated.

The daughter-in-law of the deceased, Sina Tauali'i, told the Samoa Observer on Thursday that the loss of their patriarch in such a tragic circumstance is a nightmare.

"It's still hard for us to accept the fact that our beloved father has passed away," she said in an interview. "No one expected this to happen and no one meant for it to happen, we are still praying for peace and comfort upon our family during these very difficult times."

Mrs. Tauali'i, who is married to one of the sons of the deceased, said the fire went through the property rapidly and was difficult to put out in the early hours of the morning.

She said media reports published on the incident were inaccurate and disappointing as they appeared to portray the deceased being alone at home and not cared for.

“This is quite sad because none of those people contacted us for information about what happened. 

“They should've contacted us first to get our side of the story before releasing false information. 

“We are deeply hurt by what happened to our family, and the fact that people jumped to the conclusion and made false reports, making it seem like our father was left alone at home and no one was there to take care of him, added to a wound that is still fresh for us.”

Emphasising that her father-in-law was not alone, Mrs. Tauali'i said the deceased, her daughter and her husband as well as children all slept in the same house.

"What I can tell you is that our late father was not alone when the unfortunate incident happened,” she explained. "He slept as usual while my daughter, her husband and children, along with the twins were sleeping in the same house. 

“My husband and I slept inside our open fale, never in our wild imagination did we think that something was going to happen.”

The first family member to be alerted to the fire was Mrs. Tauali'i’s daughter, who got up around 4am to use the bathroom, and immediately realised her grandfather’s room was on fire when she smelt smoke. 

"She ran and opened the door to her Papa's room and saw that the flames had destroyed nearly all of what was in the room and was getting worse,” added Mrs. Tauali'i. "She screamed and woke up her husband, who woke up and tried to run inside the room, while my daughter ran to wake us up. 

"Shocked and could not believe what was happening, we ran inside the house, and the first thing I did was carry two of my grandchildren, who were still fast asleep while my poor husband ran towards the room.”

By then the fire had already spread to other parts of the house, according to Mrs. Tauali'i, who sought help from their neighbours and called for the Fire and Emergency Services Authority.

"We kept calling but by the time they arrived, our whole house and properties were destroyed by the fire,” she said.

Mrs. Tauali'i said her husband and son tried to get inside the room of the deceased, but it was too late and dangerous for anybody to get past the door. 

"My poor husband got injured from trying to enter the room while calling out his father's name. My son-in-law followed him inside the room, but it was too dangerous and we screamed and called out to them to move and stay away from the fire as it was getting out of control."

Recollecting the events of that morning, Mrs. Tauali'i is of the view that parts of their home and personal belongings could have been saved if the F.E.S.A. had quickly responded to their calls.

But with a heavy heart, she said they will not point fingers and blame anyone for what happened. 

"What happened to our family is very hard to accept, especially at the beginning of this year. We did not expect it to happen and we never saw this coming."

She added that they believe the fire could have started from a mosquito coil placed under the bed of the deceased. 

"It was one of the things that started disagreements between my husband and his late father. We asked him so many times to sleep inside the mosquito net but he refused and preferred to use mosquito coils.

"There was once a time when one of his pillows got burnt when it fell onto the mosquito coil so we kept telling him not to use mosquito coils anymore, but he still insisted that he would use it."

Mrs. Tauali'i said they remembered the deceased as a loving father, a caring grand-father and a respected chief and a family man who loved his culture and people of different backgrounds. 

"He was the anchor of our family and we relied on his knowledge and wisdom when it comes to decision making within our family. He kept us together and loved everyone as his own flesh and blood."

His tragic passing has thrown into disarray plans by the family to celebrate his 90th birthday in May this year, says Mrs. Tauali'i.

"We had big plans for his 90th birthday in May this year because my birthday is in the same month and I turn 50 this year, so we were thinking of celebrating it together and making it a big celebration. Unfortunately, he is gone and will not be here to celebrate with us."

Two local churches have already stepped forward and made donations to the family following the fire on Wednesday. 

The Vaisa'ulu stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made a donation with the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa at Lalomalava also visiting the family on Thursday morning with assistance. 

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