Heater danger: Aussies warned of common mistake behind house fire

A fire investigator has issued a dire winter warning about a common yet potentially fatal mistake many families make when heating their homes.

Sutherland Shire resident Kate Faith took to Facebook to raise awareness about the dangers of incorrectly powered heaters and the importance of having a working smoke alarm.

House damaged by fire that was caused by incorrectly powered heater
A fire investigator has made a desperate plea to the public over heater use as temperatures drop. Source: Facebook/Fire and Rescue NSW

"As a fire investigator, understanding how fires start is so important to prevent more, so I'm up for it," she posted to a local community Facebook group.

She shared an example of a narrow escape a young family made in August 2020.

Intense flames engulfed Brett and Kara Toika's Engadine home while they were asleep inside with their two-year-old son.

A screenshot of a video taken of a house fire in Engadine in 2020
A young family, about to welcome a second child, was lucky to have survived the ferocious blaze that destroyed their Engadine home in 2020. Source: Facebook/7NEWS Sydney

Thankfully, two working smoke alarms alerted them to the ferocious blaze and gave them just enough time to escape unharmed.

The couple, who were preparing to welcome their second child at the time, had only replaced the batteries on one of the alarms just weeks earlier - a decision NSW Fire and Rescue praised as "life saving".

Ms Faith, who inspected the damage the next day, rehashed the terrifying ordeal in a heartfelt plea online.

"When I go into a room like this, I look for deep charring on furniture and walls to determine where the fire started," she wrote.

"It can be hard to ignore the events of the night before, especially when it involves a family."

A screenshot of a Facebook post made by fire investigator Kate Faith about the dangers of plugging heaters into powerboards
Kate Faith is raising awareness about electrical safety. Source: Facebook/Kate Faith

Heater mistake to avoid

She explained a subsequent investigation found the fire started because the heater was plugged into a powerboard instead of directly into a wall socket and shared a link about electrical safety.

She also urged social media users to check their smoke alarms are in working order.

"Almost half don't have one, which is really concerning especially with fire fatalities on the rise," she said.

"I can't urge you enough to make sure your family is protected - test your smoke alarms are working today."

Ms Faith added smoke alarms are important because "most house fires start at night and you can't smell smoke in your sleep. And, if your smoke alarms are older than ten years then they need to be replaced."

'Don't leave it as a tomorrow task': Local sparky's reminder

An electrician servicing the Sutherland Shire commented that he always makes a point of checking with customers that their smoke alarms are working.

"It's actually uncommon to find a house with an in-date smoke alarm, let alone a sufficient amount to warn the occupants of a larger home. Don't leave it as a tomorrow task people, sort it out yesterday," Michael Ryan warned.

Fire damaged house fire in Engadine
An investigation into the 2020 fire found a heater plugged into a powerboard was to blame. Source: Facebook/Fire and Rescue NSW

Mr Ryan told Yahoo News Australia he visits many homes which are ill-equipped to deal with a fire.

"What I mean by that is I do see a lot of empty alarm bases, like the body of the alarm has been removed. I see a lot of $13 or so price point smoke detectors in one location of a whole house," he explained.

Mr Ryan said while he isn't a fire safety expert, he always reminds his customers that smoke alarms can be the difference between life or death.

"I try to point out to people that in the event of a fire it is important to have it detected as quickly as possible and occupants of the home alerted as quickly as possible."

The warnings come after Aussies shivered through an icy cold snap as a polar blast swept across the nation.

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