Makeshift heater found in Hawks Nest home ‘could have blown up house’

FIREFIGHTERS were shocked when they stumbled across a dangerous crude heater made from a recalled gas burner inside the home of an elderly Hunter resident on the weekend.

Called to assist paramedics remove an elderly woman who had gone into cardiac arrest, fire fighters came across the extremely hot device on the floor of the Hawks Nest home. Fashioned from a portable butane camp stove with a number of terracotta pots bolted together over the top, it was designed to act like a traditional radiator heater.

But it was a disaster waiting to happen, not least because the gas burner being used had been recalled by the NSW Department of Fair Trading as it posed a danger to users.

The heater also had the potential to cause significant destruction to the home if the gas cylinders had exploded.

“When they get hot, the gas cylinder that’s inside the machine, which is about the size of your average can of fly spray, has enough LPG inside that container to blow up your house,” he said. With the terracotta pots over the top the burner, Supt Cooper said there were two main dangers that could have posed a serious risk to the elderly resident. The flame could have extinguished and allowed gas to escape and fill the house, or it could have burned inefficiently, producing a lot more carbon monoxide.

While it was unknown if the heater played any part in the woman’s cardiac arrest, it had the possibility to. “She had a history of heart problems and we can’t really say if it was or it wasn’t (caused by the heater), but it could have been,” Supt Cooper said.

The discovery prompted fire fighters to once again call on people to stop using outdoor heaters and equipment inside the home. “People are taking huge risks with fire safety by doing this,” Supt Cooper said. “We try and encourage people to not be complacent and think a little bit more about their safety.”

Early last month a young Sydney couple were killed in the Blue Mountains when they brought a makeshift wood heater inside the cabin they were staying in.

Two weeks later a Penrith family of four were lucky to be alive when they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a barbecue they had brought inside to warm their apartment.

An elderly Surry Hills woman also brought her barbecue inside her home and was found by neighbours before being taken to hospital.

Supt Cooper stressed the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and the rapid rate it can overpower unsuspecting victims. “One or two breaths of carbon monoxide will render you unconscious and any further exposure will result in death,” he said “Carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless. You can’t see it and you can’t smell it. But once it affects you, you very rarely live to tell the tale.”

He said many people wouldn’t have seen the media coverage on the dangers and called on everyone to share the information with family and friends who might otherwise not know.