A barking dog that saved the lives of a Turangi family may have perished in the blaze that destroyed their home.
One of two dogs owned by the Benton family did not survive the fire, which the family managed to escape only after being woken by the barks of their pet.
An investigator says he has no doubt the dog saved its owners, whose home had no smoke alarm.
A heater on Shane Benton's bed fell to the ground and started the blaze as the family slept about 2.30am yesterday.
Mr Benton, in his 20s, woke only when his dog started running around and making a noise in his bedroom.
The fire was already too large to control so Mr Benton raced to his parents' room and started to help his invalid mother, Pari, out of the house. His father, 65-year-old Terry Benton, rescued one dog before running back into the single-storey timber home to retrieve the second.
He suffered burns to his face, head, back, arms and hands as he tried to save the family's second pet but he was forced back out of the house by the flames.
It is not known if the surviving dog was the one that raised the alarm.
"If it wasn't for the dog we would have had a tragedy, I have no doubt about that," fire risk management officer Stuart Bootten said.
Terry Benton was flown by the Youthtown Rescue Helicopter to Waikato Hospital where he was in a serious condition and undergoing surgery.
Mrs Benton was taken to Taupo Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and her son was being comforted by neighbours.
Mr Bootten, who investigated the cause of the fire, said the family was lucky that the dog had raised the alarm. The old home was made of materials that helped the fire quickly spread.
"It's a comfort knowing that someone hasn't died but it's also disconcerting to know how close someone came to dying," Mr Bootten said. "If the dog hadn't alerted the son it could have been a tragedy."
The damaged home faces demolition.
Mr Bootten said the blaze, heartbreaking for the Benton family, was a reminder of the importance of fire safety.
"Heaters must be used properly and we must have smoke alarms in our houses as well," he said. "Smoke alarms and escape plans do save lives."
Parts of the central North Island experienced temperature drops below zero at the weekend, making nights very cold.APNZ