A few dollars spent on batteries for smoke alarms could have saved the life of an autistic girl whose refugee mother bravely pulled her out of their burning rented Sydney house, says a coroner.
She found the real estate agency knew there was no operating smoke alarm when the rundown Doonside property was inspected two months before the ferocious fatal blaze in August 2016.
Century 21 Real Estate Office at Blacktown “showed considerable and reprehensible disregard for the family living in those premises”, State Coroner Harriet Grahame said on Friday.
She found Miata Jibba, a greatly loved nine-year-old, died from complications of thermal injury, but her death could have been prevented if adequate smoke alarms had been fitted.
“It is a massive tragedy that a few dollars spent on batteries could have saved Miata’s life.”
The coroner made a string of recommendations, including changes to laws relating to landlords, real estate agents and smoke alarms.
She also said that Miata’s mother, Mary Kpaba, should be considered for an award “for her enormous bravery and selflessness” in going back into the burning home to get her daughter.
Ms Kpaba and Justin Kollie, who came to Australia as refugees from Liberia in 2005, lived in the house with their five children including Miata, who was largely non-verbal.
On the day before the fire, the family had a birthday cake for one of the children and the delighted Miata wanted to have the candles blown out a number of times.
The candles and matches were placed back in the locked kitchen cupboard but it appeared Miata managed to reach through a gap and grab the matches when everyone else was asleep.
“By the time her parents became aware of the smoke, the fire was well established,” the coroner said.
“Despite the heroic efforts of her parents to get her out of the house, Miata suffered extremely severe burns.”
Her death had caused enormous anguish and heartbreaking pain for her family and community.
Before the coroner delivered her findings, a moving video presentation of the little girl’s life was played and the parents each made a statement about their daughter and the terrible fire.
Ms Kpaba sobbed as she described how their other children escaped before she went back inside after her husband was overcome by smoke as he tried to save Miata.
“My daughter is in there, I could hear her voice crying,” she said.
“A mother should fight for her child.”
Ms Grahame later went into the public gallery and shook hands with the parents, thanking them for their courage and generosity in telling their story to the public.
This would lead to people going home and checking their own alarms and make the government realise “we have to do more about smoke alarms”, she said.