Oil heater explodes, trial blown

OVERHEATED: Ohai man Peter Templer viewing the damage done to his house by an exploding oil column heater.
OVERHEATED: Ohai man Peter Templer viewing the damage done to his house by an exploding oil column heater.

An Ohai couple are rethinking plans to invest in an oil heater after one they had borrowed exploded causing a blaze in their hallway yesterday morning.

Peter and Frances Templer had been trialling the heater, which belonged to their daughter, to see how effective it would be in heating the bedroom and hall of their house when the trial went awry shortly after midnight.

Now they are questioning the safety of the heaters.

"We won't be buying one now," Mrs Templer said yesterday.

The couple, who live on a farm on State Highway 96 near Ohai, had watched the New Zealand-Australia rugby test and gone to bed, leaving the heater going in the hallway.

"It seemed to be clicking a lot...like the thermostat was playing up," Mrs Templer said. "Then there was this big bang." Upon investigating, the couple found flames lapping the wall and spreading across the carpet as oil spurted from the ruptured heater, she said.

"There were flames as soon as we got up." Mr Templer threw flour on the flames in a bid to put them out while his wife tried to call 111. The fire had cut off the landline to the house, so she had to resort to using their cellphone, Mrs Templer said.

Yesterday the couple mounted a clean-up and began phoning their insurers as the stench of oil and smoke lingered and the hallway, their bedroom and all of their contents have been left coated in a black film.

Despite the damage, Mrs Templer was philosophical.

"If we hadn't been here, we would have lost everything." Ohai firefighter John Dungey said the fire was out when the brigade arrived at the scene about 12.25am.

"There was a lot of smoke in the passage, but a 10-second squirt and it was out." Because it was oil-fuelled, the smoke was acrid and thick, Mr Dungey said.

"You could write your name with your finger on the walls," he said.

Invercargill fire safety officer Mike Cahill said cases of exploding oil heaters were relatively rare but not unheard of in the south.

"Dare I say it but there's been more than one, including a couple in Invercargill a few years ago." The cause of the fires ranged from the heaters being assembled incorrectly, to a heater being slightly "skew-whiff" on its feet, through to rupturing along brazed metal joints, he said.


The Southland Times