Neighbour helps rescue girl from fire

BRIDGET RAILTON
Last updated 07:33 03/02/2014

NICK OF TIME: Mother-of-five Jennifer Macgregor, left, with neighbour Suzanne Wilkinson, who helped rescue Ms Macgregor’s child from a house fire on Saturday night.

 Southern region fire safety officer Stuart Ide
BLACKENED SHELL: Southern region fire safety officer Stuart Ide investigates the gutted Lithgow St home.

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An Invercargill family of six are "lucky" to be alive after a fire engulfed their home, prompting the fire service to stress the importance of smoke alarms.

Fire risk management officer Stuart Ide said the Lithgow St family, whose house was badly damaged by fire on Saturday evening, were "very, very lucky" to have escaped without a death.

"One child was in the bedroom, not aware of the fire developing.

"We were very close to having a fatality there."

The fire destroyed the interior of the house.

Firefighters were concerned about the lack of smoke alarms in the building.

Alarms provided not only an early warning for occupants, but also a cheap insurance policy, he said.

"Although it was a rented property, . . . you've got to have smoke alarms to get an early warning."

For tenant Jennifer Macgregor, a mother of five, the first warning came from two of her children.

"I was downstairs with my 9-month-old, and my 3-year-old and 6-year-old boys came down and said ‘Mum, help'."

"I smelled smoke and got the boys out. That's when I noticed my daughter wasn't behind me."

By that stage a neighbour had rushed to their aid and the two of them raced upstairs to find the 10-year-old girl, she said. "All I could think was get my daughter out. It felt like it was going on for ages.

"It was so dark, all I [could see] was her two white feet."

The child was taken to hospital suffering mild smoke inhalation and soot in the nose, but was discharged later that evening, she said.

Neighbour Suzanne Wilkinson was heading out for dinner with a friend when they saw what looked like "a wall of flames" erupting from the two-storey house.

Acting on adrenaline, she rushed towards the house.

"It took us a couple of moments to comprehend.

"He [her friend] pulled over and I got out and ran.

"I knew she had five kids, she did so well to get most of them out by herself."

The house was completely dark when they got inside, she said.

"All I was thinking was thank God most of the kids are out."

Despite not knowing the family beforehand, she did not hesitate to help, she said.

"It was just a reaction. I didn't think, I just did it."

Ide said the cause of the fire was still unknown, and investigations would continue this week.

He would be working closely with the insurance company.

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- The Southland Times

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