South Lismore mother Renee Devine with two of her seven children after fire destroyed their rented home in Cromer Street.
South Lismore mother Renee Devine with two of her seven children after fire destroyed their rented home in Cromer Street. JACKLYN WAGNER

House fire guts Lismore family

RENEE DEVINE'S hair caught fire yesterday morning as she bundled her two-year-old daughter, Crystal, from their burning South Lismore home.

Barely seconds had passed since one of the six children in the rented house had bellowed ‘fire'; even less since she ran into the front room and saw flames leaping from a sofa bed halfway to the ceiling.

On her order the five older kids fled out the front door and out on to Cromer Street, while Ms Devine, calling triple-0 as she moved, scooped up Crystal and raced to follow them out. The fire got across the room just ahead of her, swirling across the ceiling of the weatherboard home.

“I felt the heat and felt my hair on fire,” Ms Devine said.

With the presence of mind only a mother raising seven children could manage, Ms Devine patted out the fire in her hair without interrupting the flow of details to the triple-0 operator on the phone, without putting down Crystal or even slowing her rush to and through the front door.

As firefighters, police and ambulance officers raced to the scene, Ms Devine stood at the front of the house with her children, counting and naming them over and over, making sure all were well and no one had been left behind. One of her seven children was at school when the fire broke out.

By the time emergency crews arrived only three minutes later enormous flames were leaping out the front windows. Another few minutes and it was over. The house was in ruins, Ms Devine and her family were homeless and almost everything they owned destroyed.

Ms Devine's partner, Andrew Morgan, was down the road with his boss and colleagues from S&H House Removals putting fuel in the work truck when the call came through about the fire.

As Ms Devine counted her children, Mr Morgan, his colleagues in tow, roared back to his stricken family – one of the workers said he thought the truck might have gone around the corner from the Bruxner Highway into Cromer Street on two wheels.

The couple have been struggling recently and separated while they tried to sort out their differences, but those differences dissolved as they held each other in front of their destroyed home.

Over the next few days they said they expected to move between a neighbour's home, Mr Morgan's parents' house and Ms Devine's sister's place, all the while searching for a new home of their own.

Mr Morgan said they had been already searching for a new home before yesterday morning. The house had problems with asbestos and they were moving out so the landlord could fix it.

However, finding a rental property in the tight Northern Rivers market is even harder than normal when you have seven kids.

“As soon as you say how many kids you have, no one wants to know you,” Mr Morgan said. “We've applied for between 15 and 20 houses and as soon as you say you have seven kids it's like you've said you have 15 dogs.”

Goonellabah Fire Station Officer Price Conlan said neighbours around the house had been advised to keep their windows closed because of the danger posed by asbestos in the burned house.

Mr Conlan said the cause of the fire was still being investigated. However, Ms Devine said she believed her five-year-old son had gotten hold of a box of matches after climbing up to a high shelf and had accidentally started the blaze.

Can you help?

The Devine/Morgan family lost everything in yesterday's fire.

The family needs a new rental home, either four bedrooms or three bedrooms with a sleepout, and are not too fussy about where the new home is.

They also need clothes for mum Renee Devine and the seven children – aged between two and 14 – along with household furniture and other basic goods. Ms Devine said the home's contents had not been insured.

If you can help, call Andrew Morgan on 0411 110 202 or Ms Devine on 0434 474 977.

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