Passers-by had to rescue a toddler from a burning home in North Nowra on Thursday after she had been left on her own in the house before the blaze broke out, police said.
Three men and a woman have been credited with saving the 18-month-old girl, who was taken to Shoalhaven Hospital after being pulled from a bedroom at the front of the home about 8.30am.
Rob Love, Adam Schutz, Ben Smyth and an unidentified woman searched desperately after learning there was a young girl inside the house.
Mr Love said his military and Rural Fire Service training kicked in when he drove past the house on his way to a physio appointment.
He said he used a karate kick to break down the front door of the house, but was beaten back by thick, black smoke.
‘‘It was like a tyre fire, it was billowing down to the floor,’’ he said.
‘‘I could only get in about 12 feet ... it was the smoke forcing me back.
‘‘I was doing a leopard crawl, trying to get round but it was just too hard – I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe.’’
Mr Love then circled the house, looking for a way in, until he found the room with the young girl inside.
He said others were ‘‘holding onto his legs’’ while he called out to the toddler.
‘‘Eventually the child came towards me ... she must have been walking around the house in a daze,’’ Mr Love said.
‘‘She came to me after she heard my voice – I grabbed her round the waist, took her out to the window to the fellas helping me.
‘‘Credit goes to those guys as well – I’ve had training, others haven’t had any training.’’
Mr Love said it ‘‘didn’t sit well’’ with him to learn the girl had been left on her own.
‘‘I’ve got two kids of my own and they don’t go anywhere without my knowledge,’’ he said.
‘‘They’re 11 and 13 - no way I would leave a child of that age in a house by herself it doesn’t sit with me real good at all.’’
Mr Love said he was just in the right place at the right time.
“I was driving past on my way to physio, I was running late in fact, so if it hadn’t been for that I probably wouldn’t have been here,” he said.
“I suppose it was fate.’’
Shoalhaven Fire Station commander Ian Walters said Mr Love’s actions were ‘‘heroic’’.
‘‘If that young girl hadn’t been pulled out she wouldn’t have lasted any longer than a minute because of how hot it was and the smoke,’’ he said.
‘‘He’s done a great job, he tried to play it down ... I’d hope most people would try and do what he’s done.
‘‘It’s pretty heroic I think.’’ Commander Walters said it was believed the fire began in the kitchen.
Forensic police and Fire and Rescue NSW are investigating the cause of the blaze.
The fire was eventually controlled and extinguished about 11am, however fears of asbestos contamination from the Hansons Road home prompted authorities to set up an exclusion zone. The woman who also occupied the house has been accounted for.
No-one was injured as a result of the fire and inquiries are continuing.
Following investigations, police notified the Department of Community Services.