Neighbours braved raging flames to drag a woman from her
burning home mere seconds before the house exploded.
Jared Dacre has recounted the terrifying moments he and two
others pulled their screaming neighbour, Heather Bills, from
her burning Auckland home after the garage exploded in a
scene "just like a Hollywood movie."
The fire gutted the palatial three-story house on Rukutai St,
in Orakei, which has a rateable value of $720,000.
Dacre was at home around 9.30pm on Friday when he suddenly
heard a huge "boom".
Thinking a car had crashed he ran onto the street and saw the
ground level of the house across the road explode in flames,
and the smell of gas.
"The front of the garage door just went boom in a huge
explosion," he said. "The flames lit the place up like a
candle. Then there was screaming from inside."
Other neighbours joined him seconds later.
"I saw the garage door literally fly across the road," said
neighbour Wendy Kennedy. "I was yelling out her name."
As flames engulfed the house, two other men joined Dacre and
followed the sound of the screams into the house. One man ran
into the house and up the stairs towards Bills, Dacre said,
with no regard for his own safety.
The three men dragged Bills, a teacher believed to be aged in
her 50s, down the stairs.
The heat and debris adding to the difficulty as they carried
her out: "The soles of her shoes were melting and burning
through my hands," said Dacre, whose hand was bandaged from
injuries sustained in the fire.
The group carried Bills, who was still conscious, on to the
street and doused her with water using a nearby hose until
emergency services arrived.
She had suffered extensive burns to most of her body,
including her face, hands and legs.
Thirty seconds after getting her out, there was another
explosion from the house.
"We were bloody, bloody lucky," said Dacre.
Dacre did not consider himself a hero - he said he simply did
what anyone else would have.
"Us guys who were there at the time we just sort of reacted.
It was just purely about getting her out of there.
"I think other people would have done the same - I hope."
But Kennedy paid tribute to the men's courage: "Twenty
seconds later she would have been dead."
The force of the explosion pushed the car 10 metres out of
the garage and onto the street. The men smashed the window to
free the woman's two dogs, Bella and Ratty, who were trapped
inside. The dogs were not injured and Kennedy was looking
after them yesterday, after their owner was admitted to
Kennedy said Bills lived alone and had been in the street for
least 10 years, where she worked as a teacher from her home.
Bills was taken by ambulance to Middlemore Hospital, where a
hospital spokeswoman said she remained in a stable condition.