A GRIEVING mother is still in shock after she left her two sleeping children for 20 minutes to fetch cassava and returned to find her home engulfed in flames on Monday night.
Maria Ramabuke Ravuiwasa could only watch helplessly as the fire claimed her four-year-old daughter, Maria and 17-month-old son Ramabuke Ravuiwasa, at Tavuki Village in Taveuni.
Yesterday, as police and firefighters covered the remains of the children where their home once stood, Mrs Ravuiwasa expressed her sorrow.
"The greatest pain a parent can ever experience is having to bury the remains of her two children without having a chance to say goodbye," she said.
"On Monday afternoon after my husband, a police officer at Taveuni Police Station, went to work for his afternoon shift at about 4pm, I went to rake the breadfruit tree leaves outside with our daughter Maria and son Ramanu (Ramabuke Ravuiwasa)," said Mrs Ravuiwasa.
"I had promised to take them to a movie to a house within the village since they had been doing their chores well.
"After the clean-up, Ramanu was feeling sleepy so I let them have their bath before dinner," she said.
Ramanu fell asleep and she told her daughter they would not go and watch movies. "Maria had also dozed off to sleep and so I took them to sleep in the bedroom," said Mrs Ravuiwasa.
"I had lit a candle at the bedroom where my children lay sleeping and had gone to a neighbour to get some cooked cassava for my dinner.
"Twenty minutes later as I was coming back home, I saw flames billowing from the house. People gathered around the house as it was already engulfed and I knew right away that any chances to get my children back was impossible," she said.
Mrs Ravuiwasa said that since the incident she only wished she could turn back time to see her children again.
"Life will never be the same for us as a family," said Mrs Ravuiwasa.
The bodies of the children were lying separately in the house. The younger one in the bedroom and the older one near the front door.
Police spokeswoman Ana Naisoro said the incident occurred between 10pm to 12 midnight.
"The officer was on duty at the Taveuni Police Station when his house caught fire," Ms Naisoro said.
She said investigation still continued.
A National Fire Authority statement said officers received a call at 10pm and arrived at the scene at 10.21pm.
"The corrugated iron and timber-structured house was completely destroyed by fire and resulted in the tragic death of the children."
Authority chief executive officer John O'Connor said the recent spate of residential fires was a concern.
"We must all take fire safety seriously and discuss it in our families, villages, settlements and community," Mr O'Connor said.
"It's important for people to always check that all fire ignition sources in the house like stoves, lamps, mosquito coils, prayer diyas, candles are put out completely as a safety measure before leaving their home or going to bed to avoid the risk of fire incidents," he said.
"These are common causes of homes fires. These simple measures can help avoid the unnecessary burning down of homes and we urge the public to please take heed of this advice."
He also highlighted the need for parents and guardians to ensure that they don't leave their children unsupervised at home.
"Parents or adults need to be more responsible and ensure that children are not left unattended. They must be supervised by an adult at all times," he added.
"When leaving your home to visit your friends and families and even before retiring to bed, please ensure all unattended fires are put out in your homes. Members of the community have to be mindful of fire safety and ensure that proper measures are taken to minimise the number of fire incidences."