Emotions raw in house fire aftermath

John Caley (right) is comforted by friend Bill Atherton as he examines the ruins of his Ocean...
John Caley (right) is comforted by friend Bill Atherton as he examines the ruins of his Ocean Grove home on Saturday. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Rakesh Harrison (left), holding his 5-month-old daughter Georgia, and Jaimie Wadsworth have been...
Rakesh Harrison (left), holding his 5-month-old daughter Georgia, and Jaimie Wadsworth have been praised for helping at the scene of Friday night's Ocean Grove house fire.

The blackened shell of the Ocean Grove home tells a story of fiery destruction.

Scorched walls frame wreckage, the pervasive stench of smoke hangs in the air, and the charred remains of a child's bike are visible amid the ruin.

On the street, emotions are raw.

Neighbours recount their rush to help the occupants escape a fireball that enveloped the two-storey house within moments on Friday night.

They can take some comfort from their efforts. Owner John Caley (65), his adult son Lucas, and Lucas' son, Ryder (2), all escaped the inferno.

But that does not ease the sense of shock outside the home on Saturday morning, as neighbours talk of fierce, crackling heat and the speed with which the fire took hold.

As they talk, a woman, said to be Mr Caley's daughter, takes photos of the mess before being led away in tears, too upset to talk.

A friend of Mr Caley, Bill Atherton (70), arrives at the scene and begins to swear.

''It's a bloody shame,'' he says, shaking his head as his voice cracks. Then Mr Caley arrives, bumping his four-wheel-drive up and over the kerb before stepping out to take in the scene in stunned silence.

He accepts a hug from Mr Atherton, walks slowly away, and disappears into the wreckage of his home.

Neighbour Jaimie Wadsworth (29) describes the ''ball of flames'' that burst out of a downstairs room at 336 Tomahawk Rd, which was also home to Mr Caley's upholstery business.

Mr Wadsworth was in the home's downstairs workshop with Mr Caley's son, Lucas, when the fire erupted from an adjoining room, fuelled by chemicals inside the home.

When it started, Mr Wadsworth ran outside, searching for a hose to try to extinguish the flames, while ''screaming at my mate [Lucas] to get his kid out of the house''.

He went back into the burning home to find Lucas' father, who was upstairs, before dragging him down a flight of stairs, through rooms filling with smoke, to the safety of the street.

''Me and him both couldn't breathe at that time. The house filled with smoke.

''I was pretty much in shock by the time I got out here [the street],'' Mr Wadsworth said.

Lucas Caley also survived the dash upstairs to rescue his 2-year-old son from a bedroom, receiving burns to his arm and face. He was discharged from Dunedin Hospital yesterday.

Mr Wadsworth, who also had burns to his hands and face, on Saturday played down his actions.

''I just did what anyone else would do in that situation,'' he told the Otago Daily Times.

Rakesh Harrison (32), who lives next door, said he was bathing his 5-month-old daughter when he heard fire alarms and a commotion outside.

He rushed his daughter to safety, then raced to help Mr Caley, who had collapsed on the grass outside his burning home, moving him across the road to get away from the flames.

The fire also threatened Mr Harrison's own home next door, blowing out windows, melting curtains and leaving carpets and furniture inside smoke-damaged.

''Bro, it was full on. It was hot, mate,'' he told the Otago Daily Times.

''The smoke was horrendous. It was amazing how quickly it spread. Within two minutes, it was full on and we could feel the heat.

''We said 'let's get out of here','' Mr Harrison said.

Fire crews from Dunedin, St Kilda, Roslyn, Lookout Point and Willowbank were called to tackle the blaze. Flames reached across the street at one point, a Fire Service spokesman said.

Fire risk management officer Mike Harrison, of Dunedin, said the fire was still being investigated, but a gas heater was believed to be ''associated'' with the cause.

A scene examination was completed before the shell of the house was knocked in yesterday for safety reasons.

The presence of the upholstery business meant the home had a ''high fuel loading'', which had not contributed to the start of the fire but made it a ''very intense and very fast-moving'', he said.

A strong breeze had fanned the flames, and firefighters had done well to contain the fire.

He praised the actions of Mr Wadsworth and Lucas Caley.

''We don't recommend people go back into burning buildings, for obvious reasons, but at the same time those guys did great work in helping their family members and friends get out of that building.''


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