The perils of unattended cooking fires came to the fore yet again in Northland after a family was lucky to escape serious injury or death, and a pensioner was rescued in the nick of time by a woman walking her dogs.
The fires at homes in the Whangarei suburbs of Onerahi and Kensington occurred less than 10 hours apart and the Fire Service said despite extensive and costly advertising telling people not to cook after returning home from parties or the pub, or not to leave cooking unattended, the message wasnt getting through.
Whangarei firefighters were called to a house in Churchill St about 5pm on Friday after an 86-year-old woman suffered injuries trying to extinguish a burning pot of cooking oil.
The woman, who lives alone, discovered the burning pot on the stove after leaving it unattended and burned a hand after picking it up by the handle. She had then placed the pot in a sink and turned on the cold water to try to put out the fire but suffered more burns after the oil exploded on contact with water. A woman walking her dogs saw flames coming out of the kitchen, removed the woman from the house and took her to a neighbour.
Colin Gillies, who lives next door, said he allowed his neighbour to relax in a garage while waiting for emergency services to arrive. "She was quite coherent and had her wits about her but that (fire) gave her a hell of a fright. She tried to tell me what had happened", he said.
"Things could have been worse if it hadn't been for that lady walking her two dogs."
The injured woman was still in hospital yesterday. Firefighters cooled her burns, extinguished the remaining fire and ventilated the smoke.
About 2.30am on Saturday, firefighters in Onerahi went to a rented property in Ross St after a fire broke out in a pot of oil left unattended on a stovetop.
About half a dozen people, including a baby, lived at the house. Senior Station Officer at Whangarei, Ron Wilson, was among those who attended and said he was surprised there wasnt a fatality. An occupant had come home after drinks and placed a pot on a stove to cook food but fell asleep. Another occupant had seen flames and alerted others. All escaped.
St John paramedics took a woman to Whangarei Hospital after she inhaled smoke. The fire had gotten hold in the kitchen and lounge when the Whangarei and Onerahi Fire Brigades arrived. Bedrooms sustained extensive heat damage and the family is currently staying with family and friends.
Mr Wilson said the family had had a lucky escape considering 50 per cent of fire fatalities involved alcohol. "People are not learning. They are not listening despite a lot of money being spent on advertising fire safety messages", he said.
"Don't go home from parties and cook food. Its also important to have an effective house alarm. Cooking should not be left unattended under any circumstances. If there is a need to leave the kitchen, the stove should be turned off," he said.
Mr Wilson also advised occupants to store household items away from main exits because they could delay a speedy escape during emergencies.
In August 2009 a 29-year-old man died when the pan he was using to cook a meal caught fire about 1am in an Otangarei house.