Report gives fire escape

BYRON Shire Council is not liable for injuries or deaths in unauthorised dwellings, or those being used illegally, unless it owns the property or is aware of a real risk, a recent report states.

The study was requested by councillors following a ferocious house fire on December 29 last year in Byron Bay from which nine backpackers narrowly escaped with just the clothes on their backs.

The blaze ripped through a two-bedroom timber cottage just prior to dawn while the backpackers were asleep.

The near-tragedy prompted fears from firefighters that a Childers-style hostel tragedy was just a matter of time.

This led Mayor Jan Barham to put an urgent motion to an extraordinary meeting of council on January 6 to deal with fire safety risks in unlicensed backpacker hostels and “happy houses” in the shire, but it was scuttled after three councillors walked out citing a lack of adequate information.

Cr Barham said at the time she did not want to be sitting at a coronial inquiry being asked why nothing had been done.

Firefighters said at the time the house was fully engulfed within minutes and the occupants were lucky to be woken by an exploding aerosol can under the house.

While filled with multiple bunks and overcrowded conditions, the private dwelling did not comply with commercial accommodation fire regulations which raised questions of council's liability had fatalities or injuries occurred.

Fire and Rescue NSW zone commander, Superintendent Chris Bond, said preliminary investigations indicated an electrical fault had caused the fire.

The lack of affordable housing and accommodation in the popular tourist town has put council under pressure following reports of overcrowded sub-letting by travellers in the private rental market.

Council resolved to continue its usual fire safety strategies and inspections in conjunction with Fire and Rescue NSW, but agreed it would directly notify owners and landlords of properties known or suspected of being unapproved or used illegally.

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