Heart of town goes up in flames
IT could be the fire that finally killed a tiny Northern Rivers township.
"It's gonna be a big loss," said 74-year-old Grevillea resident Bryson Thomas looking from his veranda towards the smouldering remains of the building which housed the village store, petrol station, bottle shop, post office and bank.
Hours earlier, about 5am his family had been woken by the roar of the fire and subsequent explosions that destroyed the building which was also the social heart of the Grevillea community, 30km north of Kyogle.
"I heard a funny, rumbling, roaring sound," said Mr Thomas.
"I come out of bed and all I could see was fire. The next thing there was an explosion and flames went about a hundred feet in the air."
The blaze blocked traffic north and south along the Summerland Way four several hours.
Mr Thomas said he had lived with his family in Grevillea for 36 years, before that farming "on the back road" at nearby Wiangaree.
Until 17 months ago they had lived in a smaller cottage in the village which, like six others, now stands vacant and for lease, like those in a ghost town.
The general store and petrol station had been for sale.
Mr Thomas said many of the tenants in other homes in the village had to move out at the same time while the landlord struggled to bring septic systems up to date. So far the homes have not been re-let.
His wife Janice remembers thriving times in the village which once had a busy sawmill.
"My daughter used to work at the school but it closed down a couple of years ago," she said.
"We used to have bingo at the hall but that's all gone.
"Now the shop's gone. It was the Post Office, everything. How are we going to get on now?"
The owners of the store, clearly distressed, declined to comment.
Another local, who asked not to be named, said she stopped by the store for a coffee and a yarn at least once a week.
"It's the heart of the village really," she said. "It's definitely the focal point. This is a big loss."
Rural Fire Service operations manager Daniel Ainsworth said fire crews found the building well alight after receiving a call at 4.58am. It took two-and-a-half hours to extinguish the fire which continued to smoulder.
Due to the danger from a number of gas cylinders he said the crews put a 200-metre exclusion zone around the building which was completely destroyed.
Crews from the Grevillea, Woodenbong and Kyogle attended. Police are investigating the fire.