In the distance, Natasha O'Brien could hear Jewels, her miniature Jack Russell, barking.

"Jewels was going mental. It wasn't until I really woke up that I actually heard the fire alarms screaming.

"There was smoke everywhere in the hallway - really thick toxic black stuff. I can still taste it now.

"I honestly believe that if Jewels hadn't woken us, we'd be dead right now."


Mrs O'Brien's husband, David, dived out of bed to find the laundry was on fire and their Dunedin house was quickly filling up with smoke.

The fire spread quickly through a wall into the bathroom, and the heat was so intense, most plastic in a neighbouring bedroom melted, including that surrounding a television, Mrs O'Brien said.

The Mosgiel couple and their 17-year-old daughter, Katie, grabbed a cellphone and dialled 111 as they headed for the exit, closing doors behind them as they went, in a bid to contain the fire.

"Within two minutes, we were out. The fire guys told us if we had been in there for another two minutes, we would have been in real trouble," Mrs O'Brien said.

Although firefighters arrived relatively quickly, she said it felt like an eternity as they stood outside watching the flames coming out the windows. "Disbelief, absolute disbelief. I just thought, this can't be real."

Unfortunately, the family lost two of their three cats in the fire.

"They hid in our bedroom, which was one of the worst bedrooms affected," she said.

"We're pretty gutted. One was 16, the other was 10, so they'd been part of our family for a long time."

Despite the loss, the family were counting their blessings yesterday.

"I was treated for smoke inhalation, but we're actually here.

"Possessions can be replaced. I mean, pets unfortunately, they are pets, but we didn't lose any people.

"We've already bought a Lotto ticket because we're feeling extremely lucky. We may need it."

Mrs O'Brien said the house was insured and was being inspected by structural engineers to determine whether it could be repaired.

In the meantime, the O'Briens would stay with family in Mosgiel.

Yesterday, Jewels didn't know what all the fuss was about, but was certainly enjoying all the attention being lavished on her by her family.

"She's getting special treats today - spoilt rotten," Mrs O'Brien said.

Jewels' heroics come two weeks after Scooby, a terrier-cross, was credited with alerting the Singh family to fire which destroyed their Northeast Valley home.