AN ELDERLY Maryland man was in a serious but stable condition in Royal North Shore Hospital on Friday night, after a fire broke out in the backyard of his house, destroying a new motorhome, a caravan, a shed, and scorching three surrounding properties.
The blaze on Minmi Road, which was opposite a Caltex service station, even challenged veteran firefighters, who arrived at the scene as the motorhome’s gas tank exploded.
“It was ferocious,” witness Janet Waters told the Newcastle Herald. “It went kaboom – and then all of a sudden this massive fire just took hold.”
Ms Waters was driving back from her shift at Calvary Hospital when she noticed the plume of smoke from her car shortly after 2pm.
She joined neighbour Jo Richards, as well as another woman, and entered the cottage to pull a 79-year-old man with significant burns to his upper body to safety.
The man’s 76-year-old wife, who was later treated for shock at John Hunter Hospital, was also hurried outside.
Neighbours carried buckets full of water back and forth from the service station as they attempted to treat the man’s burns.
Other neighbours started to protect surrounding properties with hoses.
Unknown to them, there were at least six gas cylinders stored in the backyard, potentially at risk of explosion.
“We had to cool them down straight away,” Lambton fire station officer Jamie Sewell said.
Firefighters were yet to establish a cause of the blaze on Friday night, with police now handling the investigation, but the Herald understands a potential gas leak in the motorhome will be probed. The man was working in the backyard as the fire broke out.
The incident prompted a significant response from emergency services, with at least six tankers, Hazmat and multiple police cars called to the scene.
Traffic was heavy on Minmi Road late into the afternoon as it was diverted around the fire.
Neighbour Peter Rypstra praised firefighters for bringing the blaze under control.
He said he heard multiple explosions and was there when debris from the motorhome were strewn onto the street.
An indication of the force of an explosion, a burnt-out matress was hanging from the roof of a neighbouring home.
“[The flames] were pretty high,” Mr Rypstra said. “The heat blistered all the paint off the surrounding houses.”
The neighbour said the whole street was praying for the elderly man’s recovery.
“He was not in a good way,” Mr Rypstra said. “You just hope he’s alright.”