Friendly Woolies closed after fire
THE KEARNEY family were woken by police early yesterday amid fears a fire at a Woolworths supermarket in Ballina would spread to their home.
It's believed residents in a nearby apartment block called 000 after they heard aerosol cans exploding within the River St store and saw smoke streaming from the air-conditioning vents.
Amelia Kearney, 13, said the morning air was thick with smoke when police woke her mother, Brenda, just before 5am.
"Mum rushed upstairs to wake up my brother and I. Then she told us there was a fire over at Woollies and we had to get out of the house," she said.
The family only had time to pack their son's asthma medication and a change of clothes before they were evacuated to nearby Captain Cook Park.
Fire crews wearing breathing apparatus gained access through the front and rear of the store and extinguished the blaze by 5.50am.
Detectives from NSW Police are investigating the source of the fire, which is believed to have caused over $1million damage in lost stock alone.
Ballina Fire Brigade captain Dennis Henry said the fire appeared to have started in an office.
"There was a lot of smoke coming out of the roof cavity but the fire seemed to be in the office space in the rear of the store."
No-one was injured in the fire but the supermarket has sustained extensive smoke, fire and water damage.
A Woolworths spokeswoman said the store would remain closed until a full assessment of the damages can occur.
"We are unsure at this stage how long the store will be closed. Staff from the affected store and additional stock has been redirected to Woolworths Ballina Fair to ensure customers can get what they need in the lead up to Christmas," she said.
The entrance to the supermarket was blocked-off by a row of trolleys yesterday and a steady stream of customers had to be turned away from the store by a Woolworths employee wearing Christmas T-shirt.
A sign tacked to the blackened windows of the store advised customers the supermarket would be "Closed until further notice".
The Woolworths store has been a fixture on Ballina's main street for many years but it is considerably smaller than other Woolworths supermarkets operating around the country.
Ballina resident and regular Woolworths shopper Yvonne MacMahon said the River St store is popular with residents who aren't able to access larger shopping centres in the area.
"I think it will have a huge impact because all the old people come here to shop because they don't drive and they can get a taxi or walk here. I think half of Ballina shops here so I think it will be greatly missed."
Bus link plan
A spokesperson for Woolworths last night said a free shuttle bus has been arranged to ferry customers from the damaged store in River St store to the Woolworths store at Ballina Fair.
The bus service will depart about every 15 minutes between 9am and 5pm from today until Christmas Eve.
The spokesperson explain there would be no job losses: "We regularly re-deploy staff to different areas and those staff will be redeployed. Given that we expect extra demand on the Ballina Fair store I would expect a number of those staff would be sent to work at that store."