Residents living in a ‘multiple occupancy commune’ near Byron Bay have been devastated by a house fire which claimed the lives of two girls.
Residents of a township 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 of smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in the room where they slept in a ‘shared occupancy’ in Goonengerry.
Emergency services were called to the scene shortly after 4am on Sunday. NSW Ambulance paramedics attempted to perform CPR on the sisters but they could not be revived and were pronounced dead at the scene.
It is understood the girls were spending the weekend with their father, James Wright, in the commune where his girlfriend lives, and their mother, Akira Garton, only learned of their deaths when police called later on Sunday morning .
Investigators believe the fatal fire may have been started by a candle left over a piano in the room where the girls slept.
Police are investigating whether the candle may have caused the piano to smolder and create plumes of toxic smoke.
The house where the girls slept is one of 20 properties on the township, which sits on 100 acres of farmland in the Byron Bay hinterland.
The township 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 homes scattered across the property.
There don’t seem to be any driveways or fences separating the houses and cars are parked haphazardly throughout the area.
A local said Daily Mail Australia the commune was “like a family”.
“They’re all so grieving right now,” they said.
According to the publication, the community relies on a water reservoir at the center of the property, with residents pooling resources when possible.
A listing for Nunkeri Farm on WWOOF, a platform that matches volunteers with organic farmers for homestays, describes the property as having “abundant wildlife and many species of birds”.
“Gently sloping, facing NW with swimming holes in the stream. Lots of interesting neighbors involved in creative projects, music being a particular highlight. Working towards sustainability,” the listing reads.
The host says he is a shareholder of the “multiple occupancy property” and indicates that the work available includes maintenance of the vegetable garden and orchard, weeding, mulching, composting, raking, new plantings, animal care , bamboo construction and rock work.
The listing indicates that various accommodations are available for up to four people, including in a caravan, cabin, teepee or studio.
“Prefer stays of at least 10 days, with the aim of a longer stay (a month or more) if things go well,” the site says.
Byron Shire Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye said 7News that members of the “tight” community had been hard hit by the tragedy.
“These backcountry communities are very tight-knit, and I think anyone who hears about it can’t help but be absolutely touched by the tragedy,” she said.
It was reported that members of the commune, including Mr Wright and his partner, were attending 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 said to have been ‘inconsolable’ after the horrific incident, collapsing to the floor and screaming ‘no’ when he returned home to find smoke billowing from the girls’ bedroom, 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 commune told the publication.
She said Mr Wright loved his daughters and ‘took them everywhere with him’.
The girls’ father is well known in the area for his political activism and stood as Ballina’s candidate for the independent Keep Sydney Open political party in 2019.
7News reports that a lawyer acting on behalf of the twins’ mother, Akira Garton, has asked investigators to look into 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 assisted,” a friend said. The Daily Telegraph.
“She is eerily calm but yet heartbroken. She went to the commune yesterday and said she needed to see where her daughters had died.
Police Commissioner Dave Roptell did not confirm who noticed the smoke and who sounded the alarm when asked about reports that a party was taking place nearby when the incident happened .
“There were people present near where the incident happened,” 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 doing further investigations to find out who actually identified the situation in the first place.”
Investigations into the tragic incident are continuing, with detectives from the Tweed/Byron PD working alongside fire investigators.