Art Club gutted by fire
By JULIA ILES
TEARY-EYED members of the Grafton Art Club hunched around the blackened remains of a building yesterday to mourn the destruction of what was for some a second home.
Small gusts of smoke rose from charcoaled wood posts and a yellow police line sectioned off the gutted Fry Street hall.
A Grafton Art Club sign was the only piece of artwork remaining from the many housed in the former scout hall prior to the blaze.
"I just burst into tears when I saw it, this place meant so much to us," amateur artist Peggy Coulter said.
Rhondella Hyde ran a youth art program at the hall and was devastated to find her paintings, canvases and art supplies reduced to ash.
"The fire is a huge loss and we were such a happy centre, but we're not going to give up, it's just such a shame all of the art is gone," she said.
"It will affect the whole community ... we had been working on the art show for Jacaranda."
Grafton Art Club president Anne Falkner said an emergency meeting had been held and the club was searching for a new premises.
"We had easels, an art library, all of our historical documents, press clippings, canvases, it's all gone, and we were about to plan our 40th anniversary," she said.
The group has 170 members and moved to the hall, which was insured, in October 2000.
Firefighters from the Grafton and South Grafton brigades worked to extinguish the blaze yesterday from 3.45am through to 8.10am.
"We worked like hell to put it out, but it was an old weatherboard construction built in the 1960s or '70s, with an iron roof. When we arrived the roof was just lit up," Grafton Fire Brigade captain Greg McLennan said.
Cpt McLennan discovered a neighbouring storeroom at the Grafton Ambulance was also alight. While the fire was contained, a window, several stretchers and medical equipment were damaged.
Earlier, at 1.15am, firefighters extinguished a burning Toyota van, which had been lit on Clarence Street.
Police forensics attended both scenes and are treating the fires as suspicious.