Man braves fire to save dog

Last updated 05:00 05/11/2012
Benji Farrell looks at what’s left of his house which was razed on Saturday night.
LOST IT ALL: Benji Farrell looks at what’s left of his house which was razed on Saturday night.

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A man who braved an inferno to save his dog suffered burns as his house crashed down around him.

Benji Farrell was planting pumpkin seeds in the garden when the house he rents in Rahotu erupted in flames about 7.40pm on Saturday.

He dashed into the house to rescue his pitbull Bubba when everything started to collapse around him.

"Flames were all over the place, all over the walls and all over the ceiling," the 36-year-old said.

"The ceilings came down and burnt my face, my ears and my hair.

"My hair was on fire. It was just like something out of the movies, when the fire is alive all around you.

"I was running down the path with my dogs and the windows were exploding over my head."

Mr Farrell, a sickness beneficiary, said he could only find one of his dogs, Judah, and went back inside to look for his other dog, Bubba.

"They're like your little kids, it's like trying to save your kids running back in there," he said.

"I had to do it, eh bro."

After escaping the flames and finding his dog, Mr Farrell said all he could do was watch as the house he had lived in for four years burnt to the ground.

"It was like a monster, there was no stopping it."

Rahotu deputy fire chief Gordy Wells said the old house was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived and they could not save it.

It took 20 firefighters more than 2 hours to put out, he said.

"It was just gutted really.

"It's buggered."

Taranaki fire safety officer Peter Gallagher said the fire appeared to have started in the lounge near an open fire.

The most likely cause is that a burning log rolled out of the fire and ignited the floor, Mr Gallagher said.

Strong westerly winds were blowing the fire straight toward a neighbouring property, Mr Wells said.

"We saved the neighbour's house so that was quite a bonus," he said.

Tank water from the Rahotu Tavern was used and State Highway 45 was closed for about an hour, Mr Wells said.

"We were pumping water from the tanks and there were hoses all over the road."

Jannet O'Connor, who lives next door, said she heard an explosion and ran out to take a look. "It was just wicked," she said. "It was devastating."

Mr Farrell, who is not insured, said the blaze destroyed everything.

"All my surfing gear, my trophies, even my new wetsuit that I haven't tried out are gone," he said.

"I don't even have a pair of socks."

Though devastated, Mr Farrell said he was glad to be alive, that the neighbours' house hadn't gone up and that he still had his two dogs.

Mr Gallagher said the incident highlighted the need to keep an eye on open flames and to put a spark guard in front of fires.

He also emphasised the message to never enter a burning building.

"We cannot stress how dangerous and unnecessary it is."

Mr Farrell's mother, Cushla Pim, said yesterday firefighters told her son that he and his dogs were seconds away from death.

Her son had been through a lot in recent years but was slowly coming right.

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"And both dogs are stressed but they're OK," she said.

She and her son wanted to thank all the coastal people who had come to his help. He was staying with her in Inglewood but was keen to get back on the coast.

- Taranaki Daily News

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