Aussie mum's shock over cause of fire at rental: 'Had no idea'

The woman was thankful a tradie intervened 'before it was too late'.

A mum has shared the distressing moment a faulty device caused her home to catch on fire while she was blissfully unaware inside.

Michelle Peacock was answering emails in the bedroom of her Newcastle rental on Thursday when she "caught a whiff" of "a funny smell" that would just come and go.

"I sort of didn’t take much notice because it wasn't very strong," she told Yahoo News Australia. "It smelt a bit like burnt rubber, so I thought it had been when they were laying tar on the road. They'd been doing road work just down the road from my place."

But it wasn't until 15 minutes later, when Ms Peacock spotted a concerned tradie in her yard, that she discovered a fire was coming from the faulty solar inverter located on the side of the house.

A photo of the solar converter which caught on fire. A photo of Michelle Peacock and her daughter.
A faulty solar inverter on the side of Michelle Peacock's rental home caused it to catch fire while she and her daughter were inside. Source: Supplied

Tradie saves the day 'before it's too late'

"I saw him running around and I start to think 'what’s going on?'" she said. "I had my window open and heard him say 'we've got a house fire at...Birmingham Gardens (to the fire brigade) and I'm like, 'that's my house, what??'

"I walk out and he said 'did you know your house is on fire?' and I had no idea."

The mother quickly alerted her 18-year-old daughter Tallulah, who was studying in her room. The man helped Ms Peacock move her wooden bed from the wall, which was "very hot" with "fire crackling inside," as well as pick up important documents, before running out.

"I'm just thinking 'Oh my God, Oh my God' and it felt like forever but the fire truck came in five minutes," she said. "Very lucky that they were in the area anyway doing a drill."

A photo of the hole created by firefighters in the ceiling to access the fire. A hole in the wall that was burning from inside.
The fire entered the wall cavity and was headed for the roof before firefighters came to the rescue. Source: Supplied

"My house is old so if the fire were going for much longer, it would've gone through the whole roof and that would've collapsed, and caused the whole house to be uninhabitable...all my kids' stuff is in there.

"I was stressing out. And the poor [tradie] he's just trying to calm me down. I still don't even know his name. I want to take him for a drink — something to say thank you. Because when I looked on my security camera later on, I saw that people straight across the road to me were watching the fire the whole time but didn't alert anybody."

House damaged, but 'could've been much worse'

Three fire trucks and 15 minutes later, the blaze was extinguished, with some damage done to the home.

"The biggest thing was the hole in the wall [where the converter was], as you can see through it...and firefighters having to pull a piece of the ceiling off to get to the fire," Ms Peacock told Yahoo. "And all the solar panels are no good, and have to be replaced.

"It's been full on and scary and very stressful but I'm so so lucky that it didn’t happen during the night when nobody saw or smelt anything. It could’ve been so much worse ."

Ms Peacock has also praised her real estate agent and landlord's response to the sudden fire. "As I was standing here crying as the house is burning, thinking I will have no where to live, the real estate said 'don't worry, we can get you more accommodation and we've got other places for you to go," the mum recalled.

A photo of the card the woman received from her landlord. Another photo of a coles gift card that was inside.
Ms Peacock said her landlord wrote an apology and gave her a Coles gift voucher. Source: Supplied

She said she also received a card from her landlord "apologising for the fire" and assuring her "he will have it fixed as soon as he can". In the card was a $50 Coles gift card.

Solar converter fires are deemed to be dangerous but rare in Australia, usually resulting from a faulty installation or one being added to the roof instead of the side of the house. Regular inspections are recommended. “It is vital to ensure solar panels are installed and regularly maintained by a professional and that systems comply with Australian Standards.” Fire and Rescue NSW said in a Facebook post.

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