LESS than four weeks before Christmas, a Moama family lost almost everything in a devastating house fire.
Celeste and Jamie Richmond and their four young children were left shattered after their rental home of three years went up in flames on November 29.
But the quick actions of firefighters and generous efforts of the community ensured they were re-homed within days and able to enjoy a happy Christmas with all the trimmings.
“We’re going really well now and we’re getting back into our routine,” Celeste said.
“It was a stressful few weeks, but we got through it thanks to everyone who helped and supported us.”
Fire crews were called to the Kinsey St property about 9.30am on the Friday where they found the front two rooms well alight.
Jamie had taken his car to get serviced and while crossing the bridge on the drive home, he saw plumes of smoke rising into the air.
“He said to the guy giving him a lift ‘someone’s house must be on fire’ not realising it was ours,” she said.
When he arrived home, a neighbour was trying to put out the fire with a garden hose, but Jamie realised it was too late and called 000.
A nurse at Wharparilla Lodge, Celeste was in a meeting when her husband tried to call her mobile.
“I didn’t take any notice of it, so he called the work number to say there had been an emergency. I just thought he was being a smart ass at first. But then he started balling saying the house was fire.
“It was the longest drive ever and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there.
“I turned into Kinsey St and saw three fire trucks and remember thinking ‘this is worse than I thought’. A work colleague and neighbor walked up to me and said our dog had run off and that was the last thing on my mind. I knew he’d come back eventually.
“Then I just looked at the house and I stood there in shock. I couldn’t even speak.”
Moama firefighters managed to save the back half of the house, including the main bedroom and half the kitchen, and there was some damage to the lounge and laundry, but three children’s bedrooms, a play room and bathroom were destroyed.
“All the kids’ toys and most of their clothes were burnt,” Celeste said.
“All the kids shoes were burnt, so the only ones they had were the ones they were wearing.
“I managed to salvage their baby books and some photos which were a bit water damaged but it was better than nothing. Amazingly the kids’ iPads survived.
“I also got the couch out of there and cleaned it up and the television and dining table survived.”
Celeste said they believed the fire had started by the gas bottle attached to the barbecue.
“It’s ignited the pilot light on the hot water system and then the fire spread to the roof,” she said.
Fire crews took about an hour to control the fire, which caused about $350,000 in damage.
Celeste said the hardest part was having to tell their children what had happened.
Their three boys, Charlie, 11, Freddy, 9, and Paddy, 8, were at school at St Mary’s Primary, while their five-year-old daughter Olive was at Pink and Blue Early Learning at the time.
“I said to the boys ‘while you were at school, something sad happened’,” Celeste said.
“I told Olive separately. She said to me ‘what about my teddy?’ And I had to tell her it was gone. And then she said, ‘what about my cricket shirt?’ and reeled off a few other items.
“I showed her a few photos of her room and she was pretty upset.
“The kids have been amazing though. The amended their Santa letters with some of the things they lost.”
But what has really amazed the couple is the amount of community support the family received within hours of the fire.
“After the story appeared in the Riv, we had people messaging us asking us what we needed,” she said.
“We also had businesses donating items. Intersport Bennett’s donated shoes for the kids and some Christmas stuff and Pink and Blue gave us gift cards.
“The residents at Wharparilla gave us donations and did a presentation for me at work which was so lovely.
“It’s amazing how generous the community have been. We were just overwhelmed with all the support.”
Two crowdfunding pages raised almost $8000, which the Richmonds used to buy new beds for the children and various household items.
“That was so helpful to get those little things you forget about, like cutlery. We only had two forks left,” Celeste said.
And within five days of the fire, the family was in another rental in Highlands Estate, thanks to Charles L King First National Real Estate.
“We stayed with Jamie’s mum in Kyabram for a few days until we were able to move into the new place which was great,” Celeste said.
But they’re only planning on staying for another nine months as they are building a house at Moama’s Dungala Estate.
“We’re looking forward to a new start,” Celeste said.