PENSIONER Kerry Whitlock awoke with lungs full of smoke and firefighters banging on his door as the unit across from his went up in flames after an incense stick was left unattended.
Just after 7pm on Thursday, paramedics rushed Kerry Whitlock out of the Thurgoona Street building and to hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation.
The fire gutted the second-floor unit next door.
Firefighters said if it wasn’t for their quick response other units — or a life — could have been lost too.
However, Mr Whitlock, who suffered an acquired brain injury in a car accident 20 years ago, said he wasn’t fazed.
“I was cool, calm and collected,” he said from his unit the next day.
“They were more concerned than me.”
His best mate, Rodney Flinleyson, wasn’t so relaxed.
He came racing to the block of public housing units from his own place nearby to make sure his friend was OK.
“I just came straight across to see if Kerry was all right,” he said.
“A lot of people were panicking.”
However, Mr Whitlock, who once played football for Albury, did concede things could have turned out differently.
“I was very lucky to escape that without much damage,” he said.
Showing the charred black door to the unit, Mr Whitlock said he’d only ever made passing greetings to the two women — aged 27 and 28 — who had lived there.
But when he saw one crying when she returned the next day, he felt her pain.
“I said ‘don’t cry, you’ll make me cry’,” he said.
NSW Fire and Rescue Albury duty commander Stewart Alexander warned against leaving incense sticks or candles unattended.
“Open flames are dangerous and should be monitored,” he said.
“It’s very lucky the fire didn’t spread given the age of the building.”
He reminded people that every home needed at least one working smoke alarm.