A married woman with a secret boyfriend living behind her home neglected to tell emergency workers he was inside when a tragic fire engulfed his unit because she feared her mother finding out about her affair.
Stephen John Rayner died in a 2016 blaze, possibly started by a gas cooker or the candles he used to light the unit at the back of his girlfriend, Tanya Brazukas’s mother’s Christchurch property.
Ms Brazukas did not want her elderly mother-in-law Gail to find out about Mr Rayner because she was married to the woman’s son – who was in prison while she had the affair.
Married Tanya Brazukas neglected to tell emergency workers her secret lover was inside when a tragic fire engulfed his unit because she feared her mother finding out about her affair
Stephen John Rayner died in a 2016 blaze, possibly started by a gas cooker or the candles he used to light the unit at the back of his girlfriend, Tanya Brazukas’s mother’s Christchurch property
His death was referred to the New Zealand coroner, whose findings were reported by by Stuff on Saturday.
‘I regret all of my actions of that time. I’ve been struggling with it ever since then,’ said Ms Brazukas, who became homeless after the fire and suffered mental health issues.
Five years earlier, at 6.10am on July 27, 2016, two passersby alerted emergency services the back of the converted ice cream cone factory on Rutherford Street, Woolston was on fire.
The building had been turned into a two-storey home at the front, with a workshop in the centre and a self-contained flat at the back.
Only the flat, which had no smoke alarms fitted, burned down.
Ms Brazukas assured friends no-one was hurt after fire engulfed the flat at the back of her mother’s building in 2016. She later confessed she knew her secret lover was inside
Stephen Rayner died aged 66 in a tragic house fire inside a home attached her his lover, Tanya Brazukas
At 6.10am on July 27, 2016, two passersby alerted emergency services the back of the converted ice cream cone factory on Rutherford Street, Christchurch. They broke into the home at the front but the occupants told them nobody else was inside
The two passersby broke into the home at the front of the building and woke up the two women inside. They were told nobody else was in the building.
Ms Brazukas did not inform attending emergency services that anyone was in the burning building, even though she was with him the night before the fire.
The same day of the fire she took to Facebook to tell friends ‘while our house did burn down this morning, no one, animal and human, was hurt. We are all safe.’
When a friend responded with shock, she joked in reply: ‘Yeah, a bit of a rude awakening but at least I couldn’t feel the frost.’
But Mr Rayner was inside, where he was sleeping on a bed made from cushions, and died in the fire. His remains were found a day later.
When Ms Brazukas’s friends informed her a body had been found and speculated it was ‘a squatter’, she expressed surprise but repeated her claim she knew nothing.
‘The latest news about the body has left us reeling … We don’t care now about what we lost but what whoever that was lost.
‘The police will let us know the identity before they release it to the news this time. We didn’t even know it had been found until the police called us in after telling the press.’
NZ police found Mr Rayner’s death was not suspicious and that he had died from the effects of the fire after taking sedatives.
Ms Brazukas later confessed to having been with him the night before at the Woolston tavern, and that he had taken sedatives to help with his difficulty sleeping.
The coroner’s report said he had admitted to Tanya Brazukas that he’d set himself on fire by mistake with a gas cooker.
A fire investigator said the fatal fire was most likely caused by a candle, but could also have been lit.
It was not ruled out that it had been deliberately lit.
In Ms Brazukas’ first interview with police, she said: ‘As far as I am aware there was no-one staying in the flat or the factory.’
She described Mr Rayner as ‘good friend’ – then soon after admitted that statement was ‘not entirely correct’.
Ms Brazukas confessed to police she was married but had planned to break up with her incarcerated husband when she next visited him.
She also told police she did mention someone being in the back of the building but thought no-one heard her, so she did not repeat it.
‘I knew there was no way anyone could survive that fire and was still hoping Stephen had made it out, there was no way anyone was going to be able to check if Stephen was still in there or not,’ the coroner’s report recalled Ms Brazukas telling police.
She admitted ‘quietly hoping’ he’d escaped, but also that she didn’t know why she had failed to report he was living there, other than wanting to ‘keep it secret’ and ‘protect’ all the people involved.
Mr Rayner, who had also spent time in prison for petty crimes, was also married, and had seven living children, plus a son who had died young.
Passersby reported hearing harrowing screams from the back of the property, which they said eventually went quiet.
‘As I got closer the screams dissipated back to nothing and my reaction was someone has just died in there … it was someone finally giving in,’ Anton Heyrick said.
He admitted ‘feeling like s***’ when he later learned a body had been found.