The number of Whanganui homes hit by fire has more than doubled in the last five years, increasing from 30 in 2011 to 69 last year, and the Fire Service is urging people to be more safety conscious.

Some people just don't seem prepared for a fire event, particularly where smoke alarms are concerned, the service says.

The firefighter who pulled a woman out of a burning Whanganui house last month has spoken out, urging people to install alarms and prepare themselves in case of a fire.

The 79-year-old woman was pulled from the burning house in the April 22 blaze, but died in hospital the next day as a result of her injuries. A smoke alarm was found in the house, but without a battery. It is thought the fire was started by an electric blanket fault.


The firefighter who attended the emergency call, who doesn't wish to be named, said serious incidents always impact fire staff - but fatalities are particularly tragic.

"I don't think it gets easier. I think as a human being, no one can easily deal with that sort of stuff - it has an impression," he said.

Dealing with traumatic situations came with the job, and all fire staff processed them differently.

"My personal thing is asking myself if we did a good job - then you have to really move on, and just try do what you can," he said. "Obviously, life isn't fair sometimes, but you really need to to crack on and try and make sure next time you do a good job."

He urged people to install smoke alarms as they were a "very, very good defence" against fire fatalities.

"They don't prevent fires, but they alert people to fires much more quickly than if you don't have smoke alarms. Small fires become big fires pretty quickly. Their primary use is when people are asleep, because you lose your sense of smell," he said.

Fire Service national adviser Todd O'Donoghue said the fire safety and prevention message was widely understood, there were some people who did not prepare themselves for a fire event.

"There is a lot of the public who [the message] is not getting to, and they're getting complacent thinking it will never happen to them. We need people to realise that the risk of fire is actually very real, and that they need to take some responsibility for it," he said.


Mr O'Donoghue said the electrical faults were the second leading cause of house fires, but fell well behind the leading cause - cooking.

"The single biggest cause of house fires still remains with cooking being left unattended, or people trying to cook while they're under the influence of alcohol," Mr O'Donoghue said.

Nationwide, the number of residential fires had risen over the last five years, but has remained stable at about 3200 in each of the last three years. There were 17 fatalities from house fires last year.

The Fire Service recommends that people install photo-electric smoke alarms with a built-in long-life battery.