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Neighbour's efforts help to save burning house

By SAM McKNIGHT - The Southland Times

18 January 2010

A neighbour's quick response saved an Invercargill couple's home from burning to the ground during the weekend, the Fire Service said.

Invercargill station officer John Gilder said the fire at the Dome St house about 7.30pm on Saturday could have been much worse if a neighbour had not raised the alarm.

The occupants were not home at the time, he said.

When firefighters arrived, flames were visible in the lounge of the two-storey house with smoke filling the ground floor, he said.

"It was at the stage when the fire was beginning to develop, so the fast response almost certainly avoided a catastrophe."

The neighbour who discovered the blaze, Wayne Scott, said he initially thought the fire was burning rubbish until he went outside to see smoke billowing from the house.

"It was like on TV programmes when you see smoke building up inside. We were watching, thinking, `jeez, are the windows going to blow'?"

Mr Scott said he tried to attack the fire with a garden house with little success, except to slow the progress of flames spreading along the deck.

The heat radiating from the flames were fierce and the smoke stifling, he said.

"You could hardly breathe.

"I called 111 but it felt like forever before the Fire Service got there, but it would have only been about six or seven minutes."

Any longer and the house would have been gone, he said.

It was also Mr Scott who made the unenviable call to the homeowner to tell him his house was on fire.

"It was all very panicky. I had to tell him I wasn't joking, it was for real."

He had never seen anything like it and hoped never to again.

"It all happens so fast. Fire doesn't wait for anyone or anything."

The house was fitted with smoke alarms, which were sounding when the Fire Service arrived.

Twelve firefighters from the Invercargill and Kingswell stations brought the blaze under control within 15 minutes but they stayed at the scene for about two hours to dampen down hot spots, he said.

Flames carved a hole in an exterior wall of the house and had begun working their way through the outdoor deck.

Fire safety officer Stuart Ide said the fire appeared to be confined to the lounge at the front of the house but smoke had penetrated throughout.

The doors were shut in the lounge, which restricted the fire's progress, he said.

Preliminary investigations indicated the fire started outside the house, Mr Ide said.

An electrical box under the eaves would be taken away for examination, he said.

Mr Gilder said neighbours had also rallied around the couple to support them.


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