Cooking oil left burning on stoves has caused serious burns to an elderly lady and left a young family homeless in two separate house fires in Whangarei over the weekend.

An 86 year old woman in Churchill St, Mairtown, left a pot of oil to heat and when she returned, to the kitchen it was already burning.

Senior Station Officer Paul Ballantine said she instinctively removed the pot from the stove using the handle, suffering serious burns to her arms and upper body. Her injuries were then compounded by putting the blazing pot in the sink and turning the tap on, he said.

While the fire was extinguished the victim was further burnt by the lethal mix of instant steam and hot oil. Unable to further help herself, she sat pressing her medical alarm until a passer-by who was walking in a nearby reserve and had seen smoke, came to the address and called for help.

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St John paramedics took the still-conscious woman to Northland Base Hospital.
In a similar incident another pot of cooking oil caught on fire inside the kitchen of a Ross Street, Onerahi, house at 2.30 on Saturday morning.

A young man had been out socialising and had come home intending to cook himself a meal, but instead burnt the house down, Ballantine said. After setting the pot on the stove the man fell asleep on the couch while the fire started and took hold.

Ballantine said a family member was awoken by the distinctive popping sound of the burning cooking oil, woke the sleeping family of five, and got them all out fo the house. Despite the intervention of two fire appliances from Whangarei and the Onerahi volunteers, the house could not be saved.

One woman aged in her 30s was taken to Whangarei Base Hospital with suspected smoke inhalation but was later released.

Ballantine said the message was obvious that cooking and drinking don't mix, and pots of oil on the stove pose clear dangers at any time of day to anyone. He said if faced with a burning pot of oil, if possible put the lid on it, use a wet tea towel, otherwise, leave the house.