Family flees Gwynneville unit as fire engulfs cars, licks building

A Gwynneville mother of two has told how her family fled their burning apartment building after being woken by a quick-thinking neighbour on Monday morning. 

Helen Nguyen, her husband and their two children – aged eight and 14 – were asleep inside their College Place unit as fire engulfed an adjoining carport about 12.30am.

Despite being just metres away, Mrs Nguyen was initially oblivious to the danger. That was until a neighbour moved in to bang on the door.

“He said ‘fire, fire, get out of the house, all people get out of the house’,” Mrs Nguyen told the Mercury.

The 43-year-old University of Wollongong PhD student, who is originally from Vietnam, said she had heard people screaming and shouting outside moments earlier.

“I thought some boys were fighting, so I didn’t get up until he [the neighbour] knocked on the door,” she said.

“My daughter was sleeping and she looked out and she saw the big fire; it was red all around.

The fire burnt a wall adjoining Mrs Nguyen's unit, four cars and the carport during the early hours of Monday. Picture: Adam McLean

The fire burnt a wall adjoining Mrs Nguyen's unit, four cars and the carport during the early hours of Monday. Picture: Adam McLean

“She came to my bedroom, knocked on the door and told me ‘mummy, fire, fire, get out of the house.” 

Mrs Nguyen said the family had only moments to flee.

She carried her eight-year-old son from the house as the fire took hold of three cars under the carport, causing the sound of explosions and the smell of burning rubber to fill the air.

“Luckily, we were out in time,” she said.

Seven Fire and Rescue NSW crews – from Wollongong, Balgownie, Corrimal, Bulli and Warrawong – responded to the fire.

The first truck arrived within minutes of the emergency call.

A FRNSW spokesman said crews found the carport and the three cars underneath it well alight, but managed to get the fire “knocked down” by about 1am. 

Crews also worked inside the building, to check if the fire had spread.

The carport roof collapsed on the cars, which were burnt out, and the wall adjoining the Nguyen’s unit was severely damaged.

Another car, parked nearby, was burnt.

The family is staying with friends; most of their possessions have been left smoke and water damaged. 

If you can help the family, please email: thuhienbn03@yahoo.com.au