Upset father of twins who died in horrific Byron Bay town fire “blames himself”

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The “inconsolable” father of four-year-old twins who died in a house fire in a town in Byron Bay “blames himself” for the horrific tragedy, a neighbor has revealed.

Little Ophelia and Tarrow inhaled smoke after a candle was left lit above a piano in their father’s “off-grid” Goonengerry commune on Sunday morning, police said.

The girls had visited their father James Wright – a political activist who was said to have been outside a bonfire when the toxic fumes entered their bedroom – as part of shared parenting arrangements over the weekend -end.

Ophelia and Tarrow (pictured with mother Akira Garton) died from smoke inhalation after a fire at their father’s shared home in Byron Bay

Residents who choose to live off-grid in the commune of Nunkeri Multi Occupancy (pictured) see themselves as family and were enjoying a collective bonfire until the early hours of Sunday morning when tragedy struck

Residents who choose to live off-grid in the commune of Nunkeri Multi Occupancy (pictured) see themselves as family and were enjoying a collective bonfire until the early hours of Sunday morning when tragedy struck

Fire investigators suspect the blaze among 19 properties scattered around the isolated 40-acre town in the hinterland of Byron Bay in northern New South Wales was started by a candle placed above a piano.

This caused a slow combustion that let out toxic fumes next to where the little girls slept, investigators said.

The tragedy was discovered when Mr Wright and his girlfriend checked the children and found them unconscious, with smoke billowing from the property, around 4 a.m.

Heartbreaking appeals have been made to triple zero for help.

“Hurry, babies can’t breathe,” a woman who is said to be the father’s girlfriend told the operator on the phone.

Police and paramedics desperately tried to save the young girls when they arrived at the gruesome scene, but it was too late.

Mr Wright (pictured in 2019) ran as the Ballina candidate for the independent state political party Keep Sydney Open

Mr Wright (pictured in 2019) ran as the Ballina candidate for the independent state political party Keep Sydney Open

A member of the public cries while holding a bouquet of flowers outside the house where the four-year-old twins died following a house fire

A member of the public cries while holding a bouquet of flowers outside the house where the four-year-old twins died following a house fire

The girls slept together in a room near a piano.  Sitting on the piano, according to police, was a burning candle that caused the fire

The girls slept together in a room near a piano. Sitting on the piano, according to police, was a burning candle that caused the fire

“They turned out to be callous,” Chief Inspector Mick Dempsey told Seven News.

“CPR was performed by police and paramedics, but unfortunately the two children could not be resuscitated and have since died.

“It’s incredibly devastating to see… someone die under these circumstances, but two four-year-old girls is just one tragic set of circumstances.”

Mr Wright ran as the Ballina candidate for the independent state political party Keep Sydney Open in 2019.

“I was told Jimmy was wrong, when he was canvassing as a candidate for Keep Sydney Open in the Lower House the girls were always with him,” Tyson Kho, CEO of Keep Sydney Open, told the Daily Telegraph.

“He was the most loving dad, he’s really torn about it.”

A woman from the commune said: ‘He was on the ground on his knees, he was shouting’ no, no ‘, he was inconsolable.

“Our hearts are broken for him. Jimmy loved his daughters, he took them everywhere with him.

‘He’s in a bad state. He feels guilty. He’s really shaken up, ‘

The town of 20 houses has been around for 30 years and sits on 40 ha of farmland just a 30-minute drive from Byron Bay

The town of 20 houses has been around for 30 years and sits on 40 ha of farmland just a 30-minute drive from Byron Bay

Police are investigating whether a candle was left lit inside the house overnight (photo, investigators at the scene)

Police are investigating whether a candle was left lit inside the house overnight (photo, investigators at the scene)

The twins’ mother is now begging the police for answers after their father allegedly left them inside to watch the bonfire.

A lawyer representing the girls’ mother Akira Garton has asked detectives investigating the tragedy to determine why the girls were left unattended in the house.

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the girls’ father.

Aerial images of the remote bush commune show several dwellings scattered among the trees.

There is no driveway or fence to separate one house from another. Cars park randomly where their drivers can find space.

The community relies on a water reservoir at the center of the property and it is understood that they will pool resources where possible.

“They are like family,” a resident told Daily Mail Australia. “They are all so grieving right now. “

Neighbors lay flowers for the grieving family as the tight-knit community mourns

Neighbors lay flowers for the grieving family as the tight-knit community mourns

The house is in a 'multi-use' community on this street, 30 km west of Byron Bay (photo, police at the scene)

The house is in a ‘multi-use’ community on this street, 30 km west of Byron Bay (photo, police at the scene)

The town is only a 35-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of central Byron Bay – but for locals it’s a world of its own.

As Byron Bay has become gentrified and inundated with vacationers and celebrities, Goonengerry and similar small towns nearby still see themselves as ‘locals only’.

Residents embrace alternative lifestyles and, in simple terms, “enjoy a simple life”.

Those who lived in the commune were all together by the time the father of the twins noticed that smoke was rising from the room.

They were still there, shocked and confused, as emergency services arrived and tried to save the girls. A woman was also treated for shock at the scene.

Horrified neighbors arrived at the house later on Sunday to drop off bouquets of flowers for the family

Horrified neighbors arrived at the house later on Sunday to drop off bouquets of flowers for the family

Police remain at the scene as they investigate the cause of the Sunday fire that killed the twins

Police remain at the scene as they investigate the cause of the Sunday fire that killed the twins

Another woman choked back tears on Sunday as she delivered a bouquet of flowers, leaving them in the mailbox.

A handwritten note was left on one of the bouquets: “Mourning with you”.

Byron Shire deputy mayor Sarah Ndiaye said locals, especially people living in these types of hinterland communities, were particularly tight-knit.

“The loss will be felt by the whole community,” she said.

Detectives will work with fire investigators, who remain at the scene, to determine the exact cause of the blaze.

The house itself suffered little damage, but the toxic fumes from the smoke are believed to have caused the death of the twin.


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