'They were very, very lucky': The Huff St inferno on Saturday night. PICTURE: JAMES ALLAN PHOTOGRAPHY


A fire investigator says residents of a Huff Street house who lost everything in a Queenstown fire early on Saturday were just minutes away from possible death.

About 25 volunteer firefighters from Queenstown, Frankton, Arrowtown, Cromwell and Alexandra spent six-and-a-half hours bringing the fire under control after the first call
came through at 2am on Saturday.

Fire and Emergency NZ Central North Otago fire risk management officer Marty Jillings has been investigating the cause since Saturday morning.

He tells Mountain Scene he’s so far only got an area of origin — the balcony —
but still can’t categorically determine what started it.

‘‘It’s still under investigation [but] I have been able to support the owner’s observations through analysing the burn patterns and the area.’’

Owner, Conrad Goodger, told Scene’s sister paper Otago Daily Times he thought the fire started when someone flicked a ciggie on to the balcony and it landed on a couch.

Goodger says he’d been staying in a sleepout with his partner and her son, but got up about 2am to use the bathroom in one of the four apartments contained in the building.

Jillings: ‘‘The building owner, he was in the right place at the right time — when he needed to go to the bathroom and saw the fire on the balcony, his shouting and screaming awoke some of the tenants in the house and that got the ball rolling with getting them out.

‘‘If he didn’t do that, then we would probably be looking at a different outcome.

‘‘They were very, very lucky.

‘‘I think it may have only been a matter of minutes before we had a fatality.’’

Aftermath: The Huff St property was destroyed by fire early on Saturday

One resident in the unit where the fire started says she was woken by the smoke alarm, and when she opened the door to the living area ‘‘there were flames everywhere’’.

The 24-year-old grabbed her phone and ran to alert neighbours.

‘‘We all went up to Huff St and that’s when it got really bad — we were really lucky, we got out at the perfect time.’’

Goodger says there were two tenants and two guests in the unit where the fire was, four people in the neighbouring unit, and two in a unit underneath.

The two upstairs units were totalled as a result — Jillings says one of the residents in the unit where the fire started was due to fly home to Ireland on Wednesday and had to get to Wellington at the start of the week to organise an emergency passport.

But he says one of the positives has been the community support for those affected.

It includes offers of free accommodation by Deco Backpackers, clothing from the Salvation Army, and food parcels organised by local church groups.

‘‘It’s really good to see, especially in this kind of climate.’’