Quick-thinking neighbours helped a severely burnt man to their shower and kept cold water running over his body until paramedics arrived after he was injured by an exploding gas cooker.

Their actions meant his injuries were not as severe as they could have been and the couple may have saved the 34-year-old's life, the injured man's mother said.

Emergency services were called to an Onerahi property on Sorrento St about 6.15am yesterday after an explosion was heard in the residential street.

The tragic incident has a senior fire safety official warning those using gas-fired cookers and barbecues to be extra careful, especially if they are being used in enclosed spaces.

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Fire and Emergency New Zealand's specialist fire investigator, Craig Bain, said the man had returned home and had decided to make a cup of tea using a two-burner gas burner.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand's specialist fire investigator Craig Bain. Photo / John Stone
Fire and Emergency New Zealand's specialist fire investigator Craig Bain. Photo / John Stone

"There has been a build-up of gas inside the shed and that gas has ignited and sent a fire ball through the wall," Bain said.

The force of the explosion pushed a wall out on the 2m x 4m cabin by about 20cm and blew a hole in the wall.

"There's been a fair bit of force there."

On hearing a loud bang the next door neighbours rushed out to find the injured man. They helped him next door and doused him in cold water from the shower.

A gas bottle and a gas cooker at the scene of the explosion. Photo / John Stone
A gas bottle and a gas cooker at the scene of the explosion. Photo / John Stone

The 34-year-old man's mother said he was in an induced coma and had been transferred to Middlemore Hospital burns unit.

"He's in bad shape but he is in good hands," she said.

She said paramedics told her the actions of the neighbours had prevented even worse burn injuries.

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It's believed the man bought the property a year ago and was living in the small shed at the property he was developing.

With an increased use of gas-fired cookers and barbecues over summer users needed to be extra vigilant about safe gas bottles as they posed a fire risk if not stored or maintained correctly.

Bain said it was also the time to give barbecues a good scrub down after being used to stop the build-up of fat that could also become a fire risk.

"If you do smell gas you should turn off the gas supply and, if you are inside, totally ventilate the area."

A gas explosion at a property in Onerahi left a man with serious burns and damaged his cabin. Photo / John Stone
A gas explosion at a property in Onerahi left a man with serious burns and damaged his cabin. Photo / John Stone

St John would not comment on the specific case but said the first step was to move the heat source from the patient, or the patient from the heat source, whichever was easiest and safest.

Then immediately cool the affected area for up to 20 minutes using cool running water from a tap or shower. In the absence of water any cool clean fluid such as beer or soft drink could be used.

After cooling the injured area for up to 20 minutes, a sterile dressing could be applied. Use a non-adherent dressing or a piece of clean plastic kitchen wrap.

In 2013 Anita Wehi-Jack, 19, died after a gas explosion in her Ruakaka home.

Wehi-Jack had just arrived home from work about 8.30pm and opened the door when the explosion ripped through her rental house in Tamure Place.

Badly burned, she managed to get outside the house where she was helped by neighbours who doused her with a garden hose. She was rushed to Northland Base Hospital in a serious condition but died surrounded by family less than 24 hours later.

Peter John McLeod appeared in Whangarei District Court and admitted charges, laid by Energy Safety, which is part of WorkSafe NZ, of undertaking an unauthorised gas fitting, failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that gas appliances were safe and completing gas work where not authorised to do so.

He was sentenced to six months' home detention and ordered to pay $5000 reparation to the family.

Tips for reducing the risk of fire when using BBQs and gas cylinders

• A common cause of barbecue fires is gas leaking from where the barbecue hose fits into the cylinder valve. Whenever you connect a gas cylinder to a barbecue, make sure it's hand tight. You can do this by turning the gas cylinder on, and then pouring a little soapy solution (1/4 cup of water and a squirt of liquid suds) over the valve. If any bubbles are created you may have a gas leak. Turn the valve off and replace the cylinder O-ring.


Barbecues:
• Barbecues are potentially dangerous when used carelessly or when consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Treat your barbecue the same way you would a stove: don't drink and fry, and avoid leaving cooking unattended.

• Ensure you regularly check and maintain any fittings and connections. Use the soap bubble test to make sure there are no leaks.

• Leave plenty of clear space around the barbecue. Make sure there is no nearby debris that could catch fire.

• Supervise children at all times when using the barbecue.

• Remove all excess fat from the barbecue after each use.

Gas cylinders:
• Use the soap bubble test to make sure gas cylinders are secure and not leaking.

• Make sure the cylinder is turned off when you've finished using it.

• Have all gas appliances serviced according to manufacturer instructions.

• Store and install cylinders in an upright position.

Source: Fire and Emergency NZ