RIVER STREET RAZED BY FIRE
By JURIS GRANEY and SALLY GORDON
THE worst fire in Maclean's history destroyed four businesses and three residential units yesterday leaving hopes and dreams shattered and a multimillion-dollar damage bill.
The Maclean Fire Brigade captain, Col Barnard, said they received the call at 9.31am and arrived at the scene at 9.39am with a residential unit above The Blue Wren shop in River Street engulfed in flames.
"The fire was broiling out of the top window, it was like rolling waves," Cpt Barnard said.
"It was so ferocious and intense, it was beyond the control of just one unit."
With the fire moving through the ceiling into the two residential units above Cafe Boulevarde, the upper floor of The Blue Wren collapsed onto the ground floor.
A further three NSW Fire Brigade and four Rural Fire Service units were called in to assist. The fire then spread to Cafe Boulevarde and the neighbouring Laundry Care, which were all part of the one structure, enabling the fire to move quickly through the mostly-timber structure.
The fire was contained just before it struck Maclean Cellars and Riverland Travel.
Two firemen were treated at the scene, one from heat exhaustion and another for a minor injury. A third was treated at the Maclean and District Hospital for an injured hand that needed stitches.
Investigators were at the scene yesterday, but it is believed the entire section of the picturesque streetscape will now have to be bulldozed.
More than 50 fire officers from from as far away as South Grafton battled the inferno for several hours, finally containing it at about 12.34pm, with all crews leaving the scene at 4.24pm.
Some criticism had been levelled at fire crews for their response time, but Cpt Barnard said they did all they could.
"When you see something like that happening in front of you, one minute seems like an hour," he said. "We had the first crew there with water on the scene in nine minutes."
Late yesterday afternoon, fire services were again called to the site with smouldering embers causing problems.
The building housing Cafe Boulevarde has remnants of the floor remaining but the roof and outer walls upstairs are destroyed.
The mayor, Ian Tiley, paid a heartfelt tribute to local firies who spent almost five hours stabilising the scene.