AN OLD fridge nearly cost a North Yorkshire woman her life.

Sandra Burrow opened the front door of her home and was hit by the overpowering stench of ammonia.

With her eyes streaming, and coughing and spluttering, she managed to close the door before dialling 999.

Firefighters had to don breathing apparatus when they went into the terraced house, where they finally found a fridge was leaking ammonia, a colourless gas with a pungent smell, which is also toxic, corrosive and explosive in air.

Firefighters dragged the 20-year-old fridge outside and into the back garden of Mrs Burrow's home, in Fairfield Way, Tadcaster.

Firefighter John Conder said: "Fortunately for Mrs Burrows, the incident happened at lunch-time.

"If it had been at night and Mrs Burrows had been asleep in bed, the ammonia, which is lighter than air, would have drifted up into her bedroom and drenched her lungs.

"We had to ventilate the whole house."

He said Mrs Burrows had recently cleaned her fridge out and may have damaged something, resulting in a leak of ammonia, which acts as a coolant.

Mrs Burrows, 50, said: "My eyes are still very sore and I've got a croaky throat, but at least I'm still here.

"When I opened the front door, the stench just knocked me back - it was dreadful."

Mrs Burrows said she had now bought a new fridge/freezer and ordered a new fridge for her disabled mother who, ironically, had an identical Electrolux fridge in her home.

A spokeswoman for Electrolux said it had used this refridgerator system since 1922 and it was in daily use in millions of homes.

She said: "We use ammonia because it is environmentally-friendly. We apologise for any distress caused, but these incidents are very rare and only happen in extremely old appliances."

Updated: 10:18 Friday, July 16, 2004