Eleven-year-old Elli McLaughlan says smoke alarms save lives after a fire started by an electric blanket on her bed gutted her family's home in Westport yesterday.

Her sister Chloe, 8, said: "Smoke alarms are like your best friend."

Ellie wasn't in her bed yesterday because she had decided to sleep in the room of her younger sister Sharlotte.

Everyone was asleep in the Peel Street house where Katrina Smith, her partner Steve McLaughlan and their five children live when Ms Smith woke to the noise of the smoke alarm.


It "actually sounded a bit sick. I could smell and taste smoke", she said today.

She got up, saw smoke and dashed to wake up her sleeping children and get them out of the house.

The family's dog, which had been sleeping on her bed, tore out with them.

"My partner said to call 111. I got through and had only said the word 'fire' and the address then the phone died.

"It all happened so fast," she said.

Fire chief Alan Kennedy said he was certain there would have been fatalities if the house hadn't had functioning smoke alarms.

He and the family have praised landlord Jared Smith for ensuring there were three smoke alarms in the house.

The family had moved into the house only about two weeks ago and had not finished unpacking.

Before they moved in Mr Smith made sure that the smoke alarms were in place and were working as part of his checks of the house.

Mr Kennedy also warned of the danger of leaving electric blankets on overnight.

He couldn't emphasise enough how important it was to turn them off at night, because of the fire danger, he said.

Firefighters arrived at the house in less than five minutes, at about 5am, but the fire had already taken hold. It took two-and-a-half hours to fully extinguish.

While firefighters battled the blaze Ellie, her brothers Zac, 13, Kane, 10, and sisters Chloe and 6-year-old Sharlotte were taken in by neighbours and given hot chocolate.

Jared Smith's wife Nicky, who co-owns the house and teaches Chloe at North School, cried when she saw how lucky they had been to escape.

As if the fire wasn't traumatic enough, Mr McLaughlan lost his job on Wednesday when the Cape Foulwind cement works closed.

Katrina Smith said they were currently staying with family but had been offered a house to live in adjacent to the gutted one.

They didn't know yet if they would be able to salvage any possessions and did not have contents insurance.

They'd received many donations of goods yesterday, when people heard what had happened.

The family cats have disappeared but they've heard that other people had seen at least one of them.

As of today all landlords are required under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) to ensure there are smoke alarms in rental properties.
- Westport News