Sophie Ward, 5, sits behind the fire tape in Byron Street, Bangalow, near firefighters taking a break from fighting the blaze.
Sophie Ward, 5, sits behind the fire tape in Byron Street, Bangalow, near firefighters taking a break from fighting the blaze.

Fire threatens lives in Bangalow

QUICK thinking by a shopkeeper and a lightning fast response from firefighters and police saved several lives and a number of heritage shopfronts in Bangalow early yesterday.

A fire, thought to have started in the kitchen of the Urban Cafe shortly before 5am, spread quickly through the ceiling and into the neighbouring boutique shop Miller and More.

A concerted effort by firefighters succeeded in containing the blaze there but it destroyed both businesses, which employ 20 people between them.

Newsagent Richard Rombouts was alerted to smoke at 4.55am by one of his delivery drivers.

“I got down there myself and after seeing the smoke and a bit of fire I didn't spend too much time hanging around,” he said.

Mr Rombouts called triple-0 immediately and was impressed to see the Bangalow brigade arrive within four minutes.

“It was very close. If (the delivery driver) hadn't seen the fire, it probably would've taken out that whole side of the street,” he said.

A stunned Jo Miller, co-owner of homeware and clothes store Miller and More, said she was taking her dogs for a walk soon after 5am and stopped to see what was going on.

“That was as far as I got,” she said.

“The fire seemed to have started in the back corner of the Urban but there was only smoke and, at that stage, I didn't think it would spread to our shop.

“It's just such a shock, such a mess, but it's not going to stop us. We will start again.”

The owners of the Urban Cafe were too distraught to discuss the fire.

Smoke billowed up Byron Street as the fire spread, reducing visibility to a few metres at the height of the blaze.

By about 6am, 41 firefighters were battling the inferno.

The NSW Fire Brigade's Northern Rivers duty commander Inspector Jeff Roche said an exceptional effort by firefighters prevented the blaze from spreading to the next shop, which shared the same roof cavity with another 12 shops on the heritage street.

“The guys had to work hard to preventing it from getting into the surrounding structures. If it had got in there that whole row of shops would have disappeared,” he said.

“The first on the scene, Bangalow brigade, called for back-up, so wedispatched crews from Byron Bay,Brunswick Heads, Lismore and two tankers from the Rural Fire Service.

“The fire took them about an hour to extinguish the fire.

“It was a very intense fire and we have a lot of very tired crews.”

One firefighter was transported to hospital suffering from heat stress.

Exhausted firefighters spent most of the morning mopping up after the blaze and ventilating premises where smoke had seeped in, causing minor damage.

Tweed-Byron Local Area Command duty officer Inspector Darren Steel said police were quickly on the scene and evacuated the upstairs residential premises above the shops where four people were living.

Forensic officers from the Crime Scene Unit and NSW Fire Brigade fire investigators have examined the scene and will prepare a report.

Byron Street was closed to traffic and reopened at about 3.30pm.

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