Dialysis woman's close call with fire

Soot 'half the size of a rugby ball'

ALANA DIXON
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2012
Cassandra Robertson
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
SOOTY MESS: Cassandra Robertson with the open fireplace in her bedroom.

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Forty-five minutes could have been the difference between life and death for Cassandra Robertson yesterday.

The Winton woman was about to begin her daily dialysis session, for which she is sedated for seven hours, seven days a week, yesterday morning when, by chance, friend Deborah Kilkelly arrived and noticed clumps of soot and embers on the roof of Mrs Robertson's home.

"Some [of the soot] was half the size of a rugby ball, that massive. There were big chunks of them just falling down on to the ground. I said, ‘Baby, we need to phone someone about that'," Mrs Kilkelly said.

The Fire Service was called and by the time the fire was put out, it had nearly reached the floor of the fireplace in Mrs Robertson's bedroom.

A teary Mrs Robertson, 38, said things could have gone very differently if not for her friend.

Mrs Robertson has IgA nephropathy, an immune system disorder affecting the kidneys, and has been on dialysis for the past nine years.

Her husband Darin - her fulltime caregiver - could have sedated her, started the dialysis and left the bedroom. Nobody might have noticed the fire until too late, she said.

"Forty-five minutes to an hour later, I would have been asleep."

Mr Robertson was ill with pneumonia and one of her five children was asleep upstairs, off school with glandular fever.

"I feel very lucky right now and very grateful, but it just puts more stress in my life. I know it doesn't look that bad now, cleaning it up, but it just feels like a lot more stress, and the fact that it could have been a lot worse . . .

"Thank God I was running a bit late because I would have been dead otherwise. It's the smoke that gets you, not the flames," Mrs Robertson said.

"I feel quite numb. I'm in shock . . . you know, having five children, I can't think I just might never have seen them again. Things could have been a lot worse if Deborah didn't turn up."

Mrs Robertson said she had only been on the phone to the property rental company that morning organising the house's yearly chimney cleaning.

The bedroom had a smoke alarm but it was behind thermal curtains, covering a bay window, which were closed at the time, she said.

She would move the smoke alarm closer to the fireplace.

"It's just been bad luck after bad luck after bad luck.

"It's been nine years on dialysis. Just a bit of a break would be so nice."

A fire communications spokesman said emergency services were called to the property about 9.30am. They used a high-pressure hose to put out the fire and left after about 20 minutes.

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