A teacher at the University of Otago says he was glad he was sleeping with the window open in his George St flat after a restaurant next door was extensively damaged by fire yesterday.
Department of physiology teaching fellow Sam O'Hara said he awoke to a toxic smell shortly after 3am. He feared it was from an electrical appliance in his flat, but when he poked his head out the open window he could see smoke coming from the Taj Mahal restaurant on the next-door ground floor.
O'Hara immediately woke his three flatmates who thought he was joking at first, until they too saw the smoke. The four of them quickly got out of the building and on to George St.
He was glad he had been sleeping with his window open as the fire could have had tragic consequences.
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But he was devastated for the owners of the restaurant where he had enjoyed many evenings, O'Hara said.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand Senior Station Officer Mark Leonard said black smoke coming out of the building was reported by the driver of a passing truck at 3.12am.
Crews arrived at 3.17am and firefighters, wearing breathing apparatus, forced entry to the building, he said.
The fire was quickly extinguished and he credited the quick actions of Fenz staff for stopping the fire from spreading.
The brick construction of the building also helped to slow the fire's spread, he said.
Two fire investigators were on the scene yesterday afternoon trying to determine the fire's cause. The blaze appeared to have started in the kitchen area but it was not believed to be suspicious, he said.