Police investigate a fire on Evans Street

A home in Evans Street was totally destroyed yesterday following a ferocious house fire which has left the sole occupant with only three sets of clothes and a pair of thongs. 

The Walcha Fire Brigade were called out at 3.30am on Monday, April 16 but were unable to save the home or its contents. 

Scott Strong, who rents the property, was a patient in Walcha Hospital when the fire started and no one was injured in the blaze.

Tania Orman has been a friend of the 48-year-old father of four, for more than 30 years and said he had lived in Walcha for 20 of them. 

“Scott has been in the hospital for a couple of weeks because he had a carbuncle on the back of his neck,” she said.

“He had a wound that wouldn’t heal and when he had an MRI last week a mass near his lungs was found, so today he was taken to a hospital in Newcastle. The only things he has left are the clothes I took to the hospital for him. He is a great guy and is real kind-hearted. He would do anything for anyone and help in any way he could.”

This morning Ms Orman opened a bank account to collect money for Mr Strong.

“If anyone would like to donate household goods they can drop them down to the Walcha Amaroo office,” she said.

“Otherwise we have opened an account for Scott with the local branch of the Commonwealth Bank.”

Walcha Fire Captain Peter Dunn said the fire had engulfed the home by the time the brigade arrived.

“The flames were coming out of the windows when we arrived,” he said.

“We had back up from the Uralla Fire Brigade and managed to get the fire under control in about half an hour, but nothing could be saved. We then had to check for hotspots using our thermal imaging camera and remove hot iron from the roof which had fallen.”

The house was built mainly of asbestos and fibro materials which caused a series of explosions according to Mr Dunn.

“Once fibro reaches a certain temperature it explodes,” Mr Dunn said.

“Holes were popping in the walls sending fibro and asbestos dust into the air. My wife could hear it at home and said it sounded like firecrackers.”

The Hazmat team from Tamworth Fire attended to decontaminate both the fire crew and their equipment. 

A Police Forensic team also attended to ascertain the cause of the fire but were unable to enter the premises as they did not have the appropriate protective clothing. They returned to the scene later in the day.

“Until the police have finished investigating we will not know what caused the fire,” Mr Dunn said.

Walcha Police sergeant Anthony Smith said the fire was being treated as suspicious at this stage of the investigation.

Next door neighbour Mary Moran said she and her husband Gerry were awoken by what sounded like a gunshot.

“Then we got up because the sounds continued on and there were too many for them to be gunshots, and the fire brigade was there by then,” Mrs Moran said.

“Our other neighbour called them after she saw fire coming out of the back of the home.”

Mrs Moran said no one had mentioned the asbestos danger to her. “Someone knocked on our door last night to ask if they could use our water to spray down what is left and it was a windy night so the dust could be everywhere. I’d like to know a bit more about it – can we go outside?”

Fire and Rescue Zone Commander Tom Cooper told the Walcha News the site had been treated and did not pose a threat to surrounding areas.

“The Hazmat team have sprayed the building with a PVC and water solution to stop the fibres escaping,” Mr Cooper said.

“It is now the responsibility of the owners and council to remove what is left.”