Livelihoods, homes lost
By JURIS GRANEY and SALLY GORDON
IT was hard to tell whether Chris James' red-ringed and bloodshot eyes was from the fire and smoke that engulfed his unit, or from the pain of knowing his family's business was now gutted.
At 9.38am the head chef at Cafe Boulevarde rolled sleepily over to look at his alarm clock, the loud shriek from fire alarms piercing his ears.
Stunned, Chris leapt from his slumber and grabbed his cat and pet bird and traversed the stairs at the rear of unit.
Once to safety Chris returned to salvage anything he could, but was beaten back by the fire. Thick, black smoke curled from underneath the roof and watched helplessly as flames burst from beneath the ceiling licking at the outside of the building. Like Chris, hundreds of people lined Clyde Street and watched in disbelief as the complex was razed.
"I'm all right, but it is such a shame to see this happen to our home and business," Chris told The Daily Examiner immediately after the fire.
His father, James, had spent thousands of dollars refurbishing the 100-year-old building and had just sold it for $1.1 million.
Unfortunately contracts had not been exchanged and the sale is now up in the air.
"It is a shame for the town as well because this end of town was just starting to look good," Dale said.
Local restaurateur Eric Gabriel and another man raced inside one of the buildings to help.
"We thought there was someone up there and we feared for their safety," he said.
"We saw the fire ? but it was only small.
"Another man came running up the stairs and yelled at us that the fire was now in the roof so we all just ran out."
The inferno also left Anne and Les Gibson and their daughter Nikki with nothing but their car and the clothes on their back.
For the past two-and-a-half years, the family had been renting a four-bedroom house above the Little Blue Wren.
But yesterday, while the massive blaze engulfed their home, the devastated parents stood in Clyde Street clutching a cup of coffee and wiping the tears from their eyes.
"The house just went," Mrs Gibson said. "We're so devastated, everything we own is in the house ? it's gone."
Mrs Gibson was shopping when she found out there was a fire. She said when she looked outside the store she realised it was her home that was in flames.
"I had a look and I went 'oh my gosh that's my house', so I ran back and someone called the fire brigade."
Mr Gibson was working in Yamba when he received a phone call about the fire. He said when he arrived in Maclean he was refused access to his home.
The Little Blue Wren owner, Lee Wakefield, said despite the devastation it was fortunate that no-one was hurt.
David Boniface from Laundry Care shared similar sentiments and said it was lucky there was only 'material loss and not human loss'.