Warning after 'staggering' fire engulfs kitchen

By Samantha McPherson

Eric Bell in the fire-damaged kitchen of his home. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Eric Bell in the fire-damaged kitchen of his home. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Eric Bell has a message for anyone having a late night cook-up - don't go to bed with an element still on.

The oversight almost cost the 86-year-old Christchurch man and his son David their lives early yesterday morning.

They had been watching the Australia vs Sri Lanka one-day cricket match on TV and after eating their deep-fried chips went to bed about 11pm.

A pot, with oil in it, was left on an element.

Eric woke up coughing about 1am.

"I thought I'd better get a drink, so I got up. I walked down the hallway and it was smoky. I could hear the smoke alarm going off. I walked into the kitchen - everything was in flames," he said.

"The element was glowing red. I dived for the pot and tried to get it over to the sink so I could put it out ... there were flames coming out of it.

The oil was on fire. I couldn't put it out."

In a matter of seconds, the whole kitchen was "engulfed" in flames, he said.

"I yelled at David and told him to come and give me a hand because we were on fire. He managed to put the fire in the pot out. There were flames racing up the walls. It was staggering. I've never seen anything like it before.

"I can't remember leaving the element on. It was the only time I didn't check to make sure everything was turned off before I went to bed," he said.

The blaze reminded Mr Bell of the Fire Service's 'Don't drink and fry' TV ads. An electrical fire can engulf a house in three minutes.

Mr Bell said he and David, 63, hadn't been drinking before they went to bed.

"It's exactly like what you see on TV. It's staggering how quickly a fire spreads. I am still in shock. You never think something like this is going to happen to you," he said.

Mr Bell suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns to his arm and was treated at hospital.

"It's a real heartbreak. I'm glad I sleep with the door open. If I didn't wake up (to get a drink) we may have got out but we wouldn't have had a home.

"We are lucky to be alive. It was very scary. I am still shaken from it. Some of my hair was singed too. I haven't had any sleep," he said.

- Christchurch Star

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