The day I almost lost my home and life in a fire

A reminder of how close I came to losing everything I owned including my life.The result of a saucepan left unattended on a stove. Some of the items destroyed before the fire miraculously went out. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle
A reminder of how close I came to losing everything I owned including my life.The result of a saucepan left unattended on a stove. Some of the items destroyed before the fire miraculously went out. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle Robyne Cuerel

AS a photo-journalist for the past two decades, I have lost count of the number of house fires I have photographed.

There were times while capturing dramatic images of someone's burning house I wondered "what if that was me".

My fears came to pass two days before Christmas.

What confronted me was a terrifying ordeal that gripped me body and soul.

It was my day off and having worked overtime the day before, I had to make the most of downtime alone by resting.

I had been collecting the residues of expensive fragrant candle wax in a small saucepan and would occasionally warm the saucepan up, turn the stove off and let the fragrance fill the house.

This day I thought I would do the same thing.

I turned the stove on - it was only meant to be for a couple of minutes, but I forgot and went to bed.

A high pitched screeching noise awoke me and in a daze, I looked at the fan beside the bed wondering why it was making such a weird noise.

A reminder of how close I came to losing everything I owned including my life. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle
A reminder of how close I came to losing everything I owned including my life. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle Robyne Cuerel

Then staggering into the living room, what confronted me was unbelievable.

The saucepan was now a glowing towering inferno.

Photojournalist - Robyne Cuerel
Photojournalist - Robyne Cuerel Contributed

I froze with shock and panicked - making a rational decision was almost impossible.

In autopilot, I turned off the electric stove but the flames only appeared to leap higher.

I grabbed a couple of cloths, took hold of the flaming saucepan and dropped it in the sink where the whole lot exploded.

Fire bubbled and leapt up the walls, consuming the curtains.

I envisaged the charred remains of the cottage I called home.

I was mesmerised and mortified by a fiercely hot and angry fire, but then something strange happened - it simply dissipated.

There were a few burning embers of melted metal I quenched with a tea towel.

The smoke-stained ceilings and walls are a daily reminder of how close I came to losing everything, including my life.

If it wasn't for a smoke alarm, who knows what would have happened.

It wasn't until I spoke to acting Maryborough Fire Station officer, Adrian Massingham I realised how lucky I was.

"We have smoke alarms because once you go to sleep your nose goes to sleep and you don't have that sense anymore," he said.

"That gives you 20 seconds to realise there is a fire and either enough time to get out of the house or enough time to act and do something."

This horrible experience has caused me to rethink my fire protection, including buying a fire blanket, as well as prompt me to share my story in the hope that others will be motivated to do the same.


Never leave cooking, heaters, open fires or candles unattended

Don't overload power boards

Keep electrical appliances in good working order

Ensure cigarette ash and butts are extinguished. Never smoke in bed

Do not dry clothing in front of heaters

Clean lint filters in clothes dryers after every use and always let dryers complete the cool-down cycle

Store all matches and lighters out of reach of children

Keep a fire extinguisher and fire blanket and know how to use them

Have a home fire evacuation plan and practise it regularly

Never deadlock yourself inside the house.

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