Cat alerts sleeping man to fire

Piers Wilkinson with his burnt-out truck. Photo: Brendon McMahon
Piers Wilkinson with his burnt-out truck. Photo: Brendon McMahon
A cat is being credited with saving a man's life early yesterday morning after his house truck caught fire just south of Barrytown on the West Coast.

Piers Wilkinson said he woke about 4am in his bed over the cab to his cat meowing and "in my face hassling me".

The bus was full of smoke and he quickly realised a fire had started in the gas fridge. Panicking, he grabbed the fire extinguisher and attempted to extinguish the flames before realising the danger from the gas and ran outside to turn off the gas line.

Returning inside, on his second attempt to put it out the extinguisher ran out. At that stage he realised it was a lost cause, so he grabbed the cat and his dog and ran outside again.

Clad only in a T-shirt, he used a garden hose to try to quell the blaze while also dialling 111. But the water pressure was too low and his efforts were futile as it erupted into an inferno and he could only watch his home and all his possessions burn.

"Everything was just so, so quick.

"By the time the fire brigade arrived, it was too late."

Mr Wilkinson lost everything in the fire, including his didgeridoo. He was not insured.

However, he said the response from his neighbours had been fantastic.

"It's so good to have people just help ... I'll be right."

The hero cat had scarpered from the scene and was keeping well away yesterday morning.

The Runanga and Cobden fire brigades arrived on the scene shortly after 4.30am.

Runanga Volunteer Fire Brigade Senior Firefighter Aaron Sheehan said the house truck was well alight, but it could have been much worse had it not been for the clawing cat.

"The occupant was safe and out ... [but] there were gas cylinders venting".

Both fire crews used breathing apparatus and other specialised equipment to deal with the imminent gas danger before dealing with the fire.

Mr Sheehan said the occupant was very lucky to have escaped.

"What stuck in my mind is what saved them was their cat."

The house truck did not have a smoke alarm.

- Hokitika Guardian

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