'I couldn't live with myself if she died'
WHEN he heard news the house next door was on fire, John Barwell knew there was a high chance his elderly neighbour may have been inside.
The Laidley local was alerted to the fire by his friend who volunteered for the SES.
"He said are you number 35 or 37? Because 37 is on fire,” Mr Barwell said.
Though he had only spoken to her in passing, Mr Barwell's first thought was of his neighbour.
"I was concerned about the old lady who lives there; I was pretty sure she was there on her own,” he said.
With Fire and Rescue and SES crews already deployed to the property, Mr Barwell went next door, into the house, which was already in flames.
"I went racing over to make sure she wasn't there. I couldn't live with myself if she died,” he said.
"We kicked the back door in and went in and there was a fair bit of smoke.”
He called his neighbour's name over and over before having to duck outside for air.
"I found it a bit hard to breathe so I went and opened the front door,” he said.
"It was deadlocked. Thank god the key was in the lock.”
He went back into the house, determined to search the house properly.
"When I got back in, the heat was really extreme,” he said.
"I had a quick look in the bedroom but because there was so much smoke I couldn't make out anybody in there.”
Believing he had done all he could, he retreated and, it was later confirmed nobody was home at the time.
"As I raced outside, I felt a wave up my back and it was actually the flames licking up my back. And it singed my hair,” he said.
"And it's funny. When my partner Debbie is buying me a shirt, she'll buy me nothing but cotton. If I'd have been wearing a polyester shirt I would still be there in that house, dead, that's for sure.”
Six Fire and Rescue crews and SES were called to the property in Laidley North at about midday on May 1.
They arrived on scene, putting out the blaze by 12.50pm.
Queensland Ambulance Service confirmed nobody was home at the time of the fire.
A spokesperson for QFES said the cause of the fire was not suspicious.