Another 10 minutes and this could have been a tragedy.
A Queenstown hospitality worker’s “very, very lucky” timing likely saved the lives of her flatmate and friend.
The Scottish national arrived home to her Sunshine Bay rental from a night shift at 4.30am on Tuesday.
There was a smell of burning coming from the two-storey house, on Arawata Terrace, and the smoke alarms were blaring.
She discovered a vicious fire burning in her upstairs bedroom.
She ran downstairs to wake the sleeping pair, who hadn’t stirred despite detectors sounding.
They’d been out partying the night before.
In the time it took to flee the house and call firefighters, flames engulfed the top level, gutting a recently-revamped kitchen and lounge room.
Fire and Emergency NZ investigator John Smalls says it could have been all-the-more devastating had the tenant returned 10 minutes later.
“Very, very lucky she came home when she did,” he says. “It wouldn’t have taken long for the fire to spread downstairs.”
While smoke detectors worked downstairs, one upstairs needed new batteries.
Smalls can’t stress enough the importance of installing and regularly testing smoke alarms, because an “early warning” is vital, particularly in this day and age.
“There is a large percentage of fire deaths in this country that occur in homes that don’t have smoke alarms.”
Many modern furnishings made from oil-based polyester can fuel house fires, he says.
“In the 50s, cotton, wool and kapok were used, so a house was survivable for about 15 minutes.
“Now it’s down to three or four minutes due to oil and petroleum-based products.”
He’s spent the last two days picking through debris, trying to piece together how the fire started.
There is no update so far on the cause, only that “nothing had been found to indicate it was suspicious”.
The hospitality worker, who’s asked not to be named, says she’s lost everything – clothes, laptop and money.
But without her quick actions in getting everyone out, Smalls says it could’ve been a lot worse.
Her two pet cats, David Meowy and Kitty, also survived the blaze.
A givealittle appeal to help the woman has so far raised $3797 from 67 donors.
For information on smoke alarms, go to fireandemergency.nz