Duty commander Andrew Erlik worries there’ll be more fires caused by unconventional heaters. (ABC Illawarra: Ainslie Drewitt Smith)
Firefighters say they are concerned people are putting their lives at risk using low-cost, outdoor heaters to keep warm inside their homes as they struggle to afford electricity.
- Five people were treated for smoke inhalation after an outdoor butane heater exploded inside a NSW home
- Fire authorities say people struggle with the cost of electricity so opt for cheaper heating methods
- A community group says an increasing number of Australians experience “energy poverty”
Four adults and a baby were taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation after a butane heater exploded inside their unit south of Wollongong in New South Wales on Wednesday night.
The fire started in a bedroom on the second floor of the unit and caused extensive damage to the premises.
Illawarra Fire and Rescue duty commander Andrew Erlik said the occupants had been watching the State of Origin and were awake when the gas cannister inside the portable heater combusted.
“If this had happened three or four hours later in the evening, we might have been talking about a more tragic outcome.”
He said he was worried that the use of unconventional heating methods was on the rise.
“It’s because of the rising cost of electricity and gas,” he said.
“People can’t afford heating and they are turning to cheaper methods of heating and the result can be fatal.”
The remnants of a butane heater that started a fire after it exploded inside a unit south of Wollongong. (ABC Illawarra: Ainslie Drewitt Smith)
It has prompted fresh calls from emergency services agencies for residents to be vigilant throughout winter by following safety advice and warnings on heater labels.
‘Energy poverty’ on the rise
The CEO of the Community Industry Group in the Illawarra, Nicky Sloan, said an increasing number of Australian’s were experiencing “energy poverty”.
“We’re hearing of people going into our community centres and our neighbourhood centres seeking financial support to pay their electricity bills,” she said.
“Others are going without food and other necessities because they’re paying their electricity.
“More people are going to die because of cold because they can’t afford their power.”
Ms Sloan said she was worried a lack of education and financial insecurity will see more people putting their lives at risk to stay warm.
“People share their energy saving tips and we’re hearing more people saying they’re using charcoal heaters because they’re cheap,” she said.
“We all think of Australia as being such a hot place and that heat is the danger when in fact, the cold is.”
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