Locals living in a “multi-occupancy commune” near Byron Bay have been left devastated by a house fire that claimed the lives of two girls.
Residents living in a commune near Byron Bay have been left devastated after a house fire claimed the lives of two four-year-old girls over the weekend.
Twins Ophelia and Tarrow died from smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in the room where they were sleeping at a “multi-occupancy commune” in Goonengerry.
Emergency services were called to the property just after 4am on Sunday. NSW Ambulance paramedics attempted to perform CPR on the sisters but they were unable to be revived and were pronounced dead at the scene.
It is understood the girls were spending the weekend with their father, James Wright, at the commune where his girlfriend lives, and their mother, Akira Garton, did not learn of their death until police called later on Sunday morning.
Investigators believe the fatal fire may have been started by a candle left on top of a piano in the room where the girls were sleeping.
Police are investigating whether the candle may have caused the piano to smoulder and create plumes of toxic smoke.
The home where the girls were sleeping is among the 20 properties situated on the commune, which sits on 100 acres of farmland in the Byron Bay hinterland.
The commune was established more than 30 years ago and is located about 15 minutes from Mullumbimby and 30 minutes from Byron Bay.
Aerial footage shot by 7News shows a series of homes scattered about the property.
There don’t appear to be any driveways or fences separating the homes and cars are parked haphazardly throughout the area.
One local told Daily Mail Australia the commune was “like a family”.
“They’re all grieving so much right now,” they said.
According to the publication, the community relies on a water tank at the centre of the property, with residents pooling resources where possible.
A listing for Nunkeri Farm on WWOOF, a platform that connects volunteer workers with organic farmers for homestays, describes the property as having “abundant wildlife and many bird species”.
“Gently sloping, NW facing aspect with swimming holes in the creek. Lots of interesting neighbours involved in creative projects, music a particular highlight. Working towards sustainability,” the listing states.
The host says they are a shareholder in the “multi-occupancy property” and says available work includes vegetable garden and orchard maintenance, weeding, mulching, composting, raking, new plantings, animal care, bamboo construction and rock work.
The listing says various accommodation is 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 longer stay (one month or more) if things flow smoothly,” the site reads.
Byron Shire Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye told 7News that members of the “tight-knit” community had been hit hard by the tragedy.
“These hinterland communities are very tight-knit, and I think everybody who hears about this can’t help but be absolutely touched by the tragedy,” she said.
It has been 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.
Investigation into tragedy continues
Mr Wright was reportedly “inconsolable” after the horrific incident, collapsing on the ground and screaming “no” when he returned home to find smoke billowing out of the girls’ bedroom, according to The Daily Telegraph.
“He was on the floor on his knees, he was crying ‘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 ran as the Ballina candidate for the independent political party Keep Sydney Open in 2019.
7News reports 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 Mr Wright has done anything wrong.
“She wants to know why the children were not attended,” a friend told The Daily Telegraph.
“She is strangely calm but yet heartbroken. She went to the commune yesterday and said she needed to see where her girls had died.”
Police Superintendent Dave Roptell wouldn’t confirm who first noticed the smoke and raised the alarm when asked about reports that a party had been going on nearby when the incident occurred.
“There were people present in a proximity to where the incident occurred,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“The people at the scene went in to check and saw what they saw and police were called.
“We’re making further inquiries into who actually identified the situation in the first instance.”
Investigations into the tragic incident are continuing, with detectives from the Tweed/Byron PD working with fire investigators.