Neil Ryan thought his life was about to end on Sunday morning when he opened to his door to a blazing inferno.
Believed to have been deliberately lit in a bin beside a heap of rubbish, the fire began outside apartment 34.
The heat was so intense, it melted lighting fixtures and filled the stairwell to Mr Ryan’s apartment with thick, toxic smoke.
The 57-year-old resident of the housing commission unit blocks on Bruce Street, Tolland, was forced to climb onto his second storey balcony to be rescued by his neighbours.
“I woke up to it, and there was just black smoke everywhere. I couldn’t get out, the flames were just so high,” Mr Ryan said.
“It stunk, really toxic smelling. I just started screaming for help, and two blokes from downstairs, Warren and Dennis, saved me.”
Having heard his cries, the two other residents from across the way attempted to climb the stairs, but with smoke so thick they abandoned the notion.
Instead, they helped Mr Ryan escape by lowering him down off the balcony.
“They caught my dog and then when I jumped over the [balcony railing] they grabbed my legs and helped me down safely,” Mr Ryan said.
Realising his neighbour was most likely still inside, Mr Ryan alerted his rescuers to his door and they once again helped the gentleman to safety. Mr Ryan believes he was asleep at the time of the 9:36 am fire.
“They saved us, we wouldn't have made it out without them. They both deserve bravery awards or something.”
Mr Ryan was taken by ambulance to Wagga Base Hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation.
“I only have one lung because I had cancer so I just couldn’t breathe, it was really scary,” Mr Ryan said.
Upon his return home on Sunday afternoon, Mr Ryan spent two-and-a-half clearing out the mess that had been left from the morning’s fire.
“It was a complete inferno of clothes, bags, magazines, all this stuff. I filled about three bins with it all.”
Police and firefighters are investigating the fire, which was believed to have been started in a wheelie bin before it spread to the nearby discarded fuel.
Fellow resident Alison George has not even lived in her apartment a full week yet, and already she is looking to move.
The fire began in the stairwell cavity outside her apartment, and she was one of the first to call in the emergency.
“I was just sitting here, waiting for a friend to pick me up to go to church and I smelt petrol and smoke, and I’m thinking ‘where’s that coming from?’,” the 36-year-old said.
“It was getting stronger and stronger, so I looked out the peephole [in the door] but I couldn’t see anything.”
Confined mostly to a mobility scooter, Ms George saw no escape when she opened her door to the raging inferno.
“I just quickly closed the door, I thought I must be dreaming. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“I opened the door, and it was bigger already so I just grabbed my phone and got out the back door. When I first moved in on Wednesday, there was no handle on the back door, so if I hadn’t got that fixed I’d have been trapped.”
Having found the apartment following several months of homelessness, Ms George is now regretting her decision to move in.
“Yeah, there’s a roof over my head and I sleep in a warm bed now, but it’s just as bad on the street. Worse even, I’ve never had something like this happen to me before,” she said.
“I just keep thanking the Lord that I’m still alive now, but I can’t sleep. I didn’t get any sleep last night [because] I’m still shaking.”