By Gabrielle Stuart

A rebuild worker has revealed how he broke into a blazing house in an attempt to save well-known photographer Len Wesney.

Keegan Hewlett, 23, kicked in the door of the Christchurch property in the early hours of Monday morning only to be forced back when the roof caved in.

"I booted it about three times and got the hinges off, then I saw the chain lock was snubbed, which made me think someone must be inside. But as the door came down the hallway ceiling collapsed. I would have been burned as soon as I got in," he said.

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The house on Cashel St was full of flames and smoke, and the heat was intense. "The police said I did all I could and, if I had gone in, I wouldn't have come out," he said.

Wesney, 70, perished in the blaze. Fire investigators said yesterday the cause of the fire was accidental. His death has been referred to the coroner.

Hewlett was driving home after a night-shift about 3.30am on Monday, when he saw thick black smoke pouring from the house.

Hewlett kicked down the door after he banged on the windows and heard what sounded like someone inside.

Wesney's neighbours called Hewlett a hero, but he said he didn't feel like one.

"I hate to think he was stuck in his house and I couldn't get him out," he said.

Wesney was a painter and photographer, who has had his work exhibited across the world, including a solo exhibition at the Qantas Gallery in London.

He worked as a photographer for The Star until 1982.

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Born in Invercargill, Wesney studied painting at the Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 1965, then went to the United Kingdom to study photography at the Guildford School of Art.

He worked and travelled through Europe until he returned to Christchurch in 1970.

A neighbour of Wesney, Anna Heather, said he was very friendly, and often stopped for a chat or offered to help trim her hedges.

"I had walked by just that day on the way to the park, and said hi," she said.

She had not realised the neighbouring property was on fire on Monday until she was woken by Hewlett banging on the windows, she said.

Her house was very close to Wesney's, and she believed the fire could easily have spread to her home.

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"He was a real hero," she said of Hewlett.

Hewlett said he began waking the neighbours after realising there was nothing more he could do to save Wesney.