'I had him': Hero neighbour's despair after fatal blaze

The scene of Thursday night's fatal house fire at Mount Warrigal.

Photo: Sylvia Liber

A man who came heartbreakingly close to pulling his neighbour free from a fatal house fire on the NSW South Coast has spent the night in hospital after almost losing his own life in the blaze.

The fire, at a home near Wollongong about 9.20pm on Thursday, claimed the life of 84-year-old Erwin Langthaller and left Mr Langthaller's 53-year-old son in a critical but stable condition.

Mount Warrigal resident Erwin Langthaller, 84, died in the blaze.

Photo: Sylvia Liber

Father-of-two Jake Bush, 27, was one of several Good Samaritans who tried to make a difference to the outcome.

Alerted to the emergency, he ran straight at it.

"I tried to open the front door but it was hot so I screamed, 'someone get me something to break it'," he said.

When a piece of plywood didn't work, he ran his Mount Warrigal home to retrieve a baseball bat.

Father-of-two Jake Bush tried in vain to save Erwin Langthaller.

Photo: Sylvia Liber

"I heard the old bloke that lives there moaning, so I smashed [the door] and ran straight through there," he said.

He found the older Mr Langthaller on the floor of the Madigan Boulevarde residence and managed to pull him about two metres before he collapsed and was forced to retreat for a life-saving breath of fresh air.

For a moment he faced the frightening reality of finding himself in the smoke-filled room, no longer able to see the way out.

"I couldn't see anything ... I had found him by his voice," he said.

I crawled back out but I couldn't find the door. It was just luck that I found my way out.

Jake Bush

"I've just kind of grabbed his arms and started dragging him, but he's six-foot tall, he's a big bloke, and I couldn't see.

"I've panicked and I've breathed too much stuff in and collapsed myself. It burnt. It was toxic.

"I crawled back out but I couldn't find the door. It was just luck that I found my way out.

"Then I got another breath and went to go back in there, but the second time I went to go back in there, he wasn't making noises. And then I couldn't find him."

'I wish I could have done more'

Mr Bush re-entered the home via its back door, certain there were still two people inside.

He called for them but heard nothing. He looked down at his feet and found they had disappeared in the smoke.

When firefighters arrived soon afterwards, they cast a powerful torchlight into the home and, from the front lawn, Mr Bush spotted Mr Langthaller, only about six metres from the home's front entry.

The smoke made him vomit; a doctor would later tell him the carbon dioxide level in his body were at "seven out of 10".

Erwin Langthaller's 53-year-old son was in a critical but stable condition.

Photo: Sylvia Liber

Mr Bush became upset when he learned the elderly Mr Langthaller hadn't survived.

"I wish I could have done more," he said. "Because I had him in my hands."

Neighbours say they heard no smoke alarm at the home.

Shellharbour firefighter Paul Knight said the property was fitted with one, but it was so fire damaged it was unclear whether it had been operational.

investigators had yet to pinpoint the cause of the blaze.

Photo: Sylvia Liber

The home's three bedroom's are located behind one another, along the right-hand side of the property.

Early reports indicate these were the most fire-affected, and that most damage was in the bedroom farthest back from the street.

The bedroom containing the 53-year-old man, at the front of the house, was less smoky when firefighters arrived.

Mr Knight was one of the emergency workers who performed CPR on the residents once they were pulled out unconscious. He said investigators had yet to pinpoint the cause of the blaze.

Illawarra Mercury

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