Child's play almost tragedy

By Amelia Wade

Mum rescues toddlers who took lighter from her purse and set fire to their mattress

Rochelle Stoneham awoke to find this mattress on fire in her toddlers' bedroom. Photo / Natalie Slade
Rochelle Stoneham awoke to find this mattress on fire in her toddlers' bedroom. Photo / Natalie Slade

A North Shore mother suffered smoke inhalation and burns yesterday as she rescued her two toddlers who had set fire to one of their beds with a lighter.

Rochelle Stoneham woke to an ember landing on her pillow and saw smoke filling the hallway as she ran to her children's room next door.

The room was ablaze and her children were hiding silently under a blanket in the corner.

Her 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter had gone into Ms Stoneham's handbag, found a lighter and started playing with it. Once lit, the children dropped it on to one of their beds which caught fire immediately.

"I grabbed my boy first and almost threw him out of the room, then I found my girl under the blanket. I couldn't see a thing. I got burns on my hands and feet from running in there and grabbing them."

Debbie Hilbron, who was staying with Ms Stoneham and sleeping on her couch, woke about 8am to her friend's screams.

"What the hell have you guys done? It's on fire! Get the hell out of here!"

Smoke quickly filled the Northcross, North Shore, house and after the children were safe, Ms Stoneham ran back inside to try put the fire out with pots of water from the kitchen.

"I kept telling her, 'Don't go back in. Stop!' The smoke was so bad," Ms Hilbron said.

It wasn't until the Fire Service arrived that Ms Stoneham, 27, stopped trying to put out the blaze. Her efforts left her with burns to her hands and feet while her daughter suffered small burns on her feet.

The smoke was so thick firefighters could hardly see the hallway door. Ms Stoneham and her two children were taken to North Shore Hospital for smoke inhalation and burns injuries. Ms Stoneham was later transferred to Middlemore Hospital where there is a specialist burns unit and was released last night.

There wasn't much damage to the Carlisle Rd house, which Ms Stoneham rents, as most of the fire was restricted to the children's mattresses.

Ms Stoneham said her children often sneaked into her handbag to look for chocolate, but she did not think they would find her lighter.

She called yesterday's fire an eye-opener and urged other parents to make sure any lighters were hidden away.

"I don't even want lighters in my house any more.

"It was terrifying. I just can't get over how lucky I am, and the children. It's so scary and it could have happened to anybody so making other parents more aware of to really keep their lighters or matches or anything flammable up and out of the way."

Senior fire investigator Mike McEnaney said it was a timely reminder for parents that they had to keep lighters out of their children's reach. He said the family was very lucky yesterday.

The lighter was a pressurised gas-powered one which didn't turn off when pressure is taken off the ignition.

"Matches and lighters are tools like toys to kids, don't leave them around where children can get to them and play with them."

He said there were no working smoke alarms at the house.

- NZ Herald

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