Fire leaves local family without a home
FLEEING their burning home in the middle of the night, barefoot and in pyjamas, the Chambers family could only just begin to process how their lives would change.
Almost three weeks on and still with no permanent place to live, mum Jackie says she's glad her loved ones are safe and well but getting back on their feet is proving challenging.
After waking to strange noises about 3.30am two Mondays ago, mother-of-six Jackie soon realised their building was alight.
While Jackie and her husband Rick, their four children home at the time and a couple living in the connecting residence all escaped unharmed, the property was badly damaged.
Jackie said the aftermath - immediately and later on - had been full of uncertainty.
"We sort of felt stranded, sitting in the gutter outside our home for about six hours until the police took us down to the station," she said.
"It sort of felt like by 9.30am, everyone had up and forgotten about us already.
"It was really only a neighbour, Terry from the Sandy Beach Baptist Church, and his family who brought us water, took us to their house to use the toilet and later gave us food.
"Thank God we had a neighbour like that - and I didn't even know him before the fire."
Jackie said she was fortunate to have a sister who lived nearby.
"If she wasn't here I wouldn't know where to go, what to do, how to do it.
"She was in Sydney at the time and I called her, and she just said 'go to my place'."
Due to limited space, the family is now split between two houses until they can find a more permanent home.
"The three oldest boys are living in a shack at Sandy Beach, but it hasn't got much in the way of facilities," Jackie said.
"They have to come back to my sister's to take showers, use the internet and that sort of thing."
While friends have rallied for the Chambers, the family isn't having much luck finding a new home to rent.
"Our friend Michael's daughter did a fundraiser for us at her school, getting some money together from a cake stall and giving us a big hamper, and my work has given us a few things and has a hamper going.
"People have been supportive, giving us lots of things, but what we really need is a house.
"People are saying 'we can give you a washing machine', 'we can give you this or that', and it's sweet, but I need a house to put it in.
"Fortunately we did have contents insurance."
Jackie said she was surprised to be knocked back from rental properties, particularly given the family's circumstances.
"Even the real estate we were renting the Emerald Beach house through had two properties we were knocked back from.
"I'm having to frantically run around in my days off work, trying to find somewhere for us to live."
When asked if she believed the size of her family or the fire could be the reason they were being declined, Jackie said agents weren't giving her any answers.
With two kids living away from home and a third heading to the army, it's just mum and dad and three of their grown children in need of a place to live.
Jackie said it was the luxury of having their own space the family missed most.
"It's the small things, like being able to have a bath while dinner's cooking or not sleeping on a blow-up mattress," she said.
"The kids miss having their own space and just having their things around.
"Those are the sort of things you don't fully appreciate until they're gone."
Coffs-Clarence Local Area Command acting crime manager, Detective Inspector Kingsley Chapman, said police had spoken to a number of witnesses regarding the suspicious fire and were continuing to investigate.
No arrests have been made.