A house fire at Kingsley Lane in Byron Bay gutted the house. Photo: Dave Edgson
A house fire at Kingsley Lane in Byron Bay gutted the house. Photo: Dave Edgson contributed

Terrifying moment for fire heroes: 'Someone was in there'

THE neighbour and good Samaritan who rescued a woman from her burning home in Byron Bay are being recognised today in the Australian Bravery Awards.

When Jennifer McCallum and Christopher Hadwell ran into the burning building in 2015, they never dreamed of receiving an award for their actions.

"I was really surprised and honoured. It's a lovely thing to be nominated for, but I guess it felt strange because when the incident happened it didn't feel like I was being very brave - I kind of just went into fight or flight mode," Ms McCallum said.


Mr Hadwell said he almost missed the opportunity to attend the awards ceremony.

"It was an unknown number coming through to my phone and I was ignoring it and then finally answered," Mr Hadwell said. "I was stunned and shocked ... I did something which I would have expected anyone to do, to do for me or someone else."

It was the early hours of August 6 when Ms McCallum became aware her neighbour's house was on fire and she immediately alerted emergency services before running to the burning property.

"I could just hear commotion," she said. "I actually thought someone was breaking into my house, I could hear glass smashing.

"As I was standing out the front of the house I realised there was a car parked on the driveway and I was the only person standing out the front of the house.

"In that moment, it was like a light went on and knew there was somebody in there."

She made her way to the open back door, got on her hands and knees, entered the property and began to search for occupants until the flames and a gas explosion forced her to leave.

Meanwhile, Mr Hadwell was on his way to work when he noticed a glowing light which he thought was unusual.

"I decided to take a detour and have a look," he said.

"I took a couple of back lanes and then all of a sudden I was there (at) this house fire."

On arrival he met Ms McCallum outside the Kingsley Lane home and together they made their way back into the building.

"We entered through the garage, seeking this woman lost in the inferno ... it was just black, thick smoke - you couldn't see your hand in front of you," Mr Hadwell said.

"All we could hear was this flame bellowing and bellowing, getting louder and louder.

"I could hear the roof creaking and popping. I just had this gut feeling it was going to fall."

Mr Hadwell pulled Ms McCallum out of the house just before part of the roof collapsed.

They then re-entered the house and were calling out when they heard a moan nearby.

They both crouched down and crawled along the floor. They were feeling their way along a wall when Mr Hadwell felt the limb of the barely-conscious occupant under the rubble of the collapsed roof. 

"I pulled her up to my chest, Jen and I slowly crept back to the door frame and then back out into the laneway," Mr Hadwell said.

He said they were lucky that everything happened at the right time and in the right place.

"It was just very fortunate that Jen was there and that Jen and I worked together well enough to have a positive outcome and save that woman's life," he said.

Now, almost three years later, they will presented with a Bravery Medal by Governor-General of Australia Sir Peter Cosgrove.

"We're just two regular people that came together and did an amazing thing and it is nice to be recognised for it," Ms McCallum said.

"You don't have to be a superhero to do something extraordinary and to make a big change in somebody's life."