Editorial: Lessons for all from house fire

Last updated 12:35 28/05/2014

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One consequence of council clean air campaigning is that house fires seem to have become less common.

In previous decades the current wintry snap would have sparked the beginning of chimney fire season - often because homeowners had neglected to call out the chimney cleaners before lighting up.

There were also far fewer of what is now an essential item: the unobtrusive, cheap to buy and operate, and potentially life-saving smoke detector.

This week's callout to a house in the Wood was not related to a chimney fire. An unstubbed cigarette is the prime suspect, although the fire safety investigation has yet to be completed. However, the first hero in this story was yet again the humble smoke alarm.

As it was, two occupants of the Housing New Zealand-owned complex on Sovereign St were admitted to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

Had the unit not contained working detectors the outcome might well have been much worse. The two occupants also did the right thing in closing the door to a bedroom where the fire caught hold, as it presumably limited the spread of smoke and flame. However, the pair still had to be checked over at hospital and must have received a terrible fright.

Their ordeal heightens the danger of some modern materials used in house construction and furnishings. Fire-fighters described the smoke produced from a burning mattress as "highly toxic".

Other heroes from the incident were neighbours who acted quickly to ensure the safety of people from adjacent units, and support the mother and daughter from the property involved.

Among them was the often maligned Lewis Stanton, who had been parked up nearby and was quickly able to arrange temporary accommodation for the pair.

Stanton, who prefers to be known as Hone Ma Heke, also received kudos recently from a Mailbox correspondent for his efforts to help people in Marsden Valley clean up after the latest devastating gales.

As much as the stubborn Stanton seems to love to wind up his detractors, or at least to respond in kind when abused, he does have his good points. Credit where it is due.

But back to the main point from Monday night's drama in Sovereign St. So many stories have had similar starts but tragic ends, because people have either neglected to install smoke alarms or to replace the batteries.

How frustrating it must be to firefighters who have to deal with the consequences, knowing tragedy could have been so easily and cheaply averted.

Thankfully this was not the case on Monday and so the story - happening the night of the first decent frost in the city this year - serves as a timely reminder to check those detectors.

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And, for those who do still have the opportunity to fire up the wood-burners, don't forget to get the flues cleaned and to dispose of ashes safely. Simple precautions, but they can save lives.

- Nelson

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