Wategos homes go up in flames

The full fury of the blaze on Sunday night is dramatically captured by Wategos resident Sean Latham.
The full fury of the blaze on Sunday night is dramatically captured by Wategos resident Sean Latham.

Like a diesel locomotive coming over Cape Byron.

That’s how long-time Wategos Beach resident Ken Thurlow likened the roar from the inferno that destroyed two multi-million-dollar holiday houses only metres from his own home on Sunday night.

“I have never seen anything go up so quickly as this,” he said.

“It was ferocious. A total inferno in 20 minutes.”

Mr Thurlow’s house in Marine Parade backs onto Pandanus Place and is only several metres away from the first of the two Brownell Drive houses, owned by out-of-towners, that caught fire.

He said his wife Suzie called the emergency Triple-O number about 7.20pm but the operator didn’t seem to understand the location.

So he called Byron Bay Police and an officer, Constable Matthew Scott, was ‘around in a flash’.

Constable Scott doorknocked nearby houses and told people to evacuate their houses and assemble at a spot away from the blaze.

“I have nothing but admiration and praise for the way he went about it,” said Mr Thurlow.

“He got everyone out and was as cool as a cucumber.”

Mr Thurlow said he had made another call to Triple-O at about 7.40pm and reported the blaze was out of control.

But he said the operator told him a firefighting unit was already in Brownell Drive at the top of Wategos Beach which Mr Thurlow hadn’t heard or seen arrive.

That unit was later joined by others, so eventually there were firefighters from Byron Bay, Bangalow, Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads battling the blazes.

They were joined by Rural Fire Service firefighters.

Mr Thurlow said the house closest to his was built around a central atrium which had acted like a chimney.

He said flames were leaping 10m to 20m above the house and with a ‘fairly stiff’ southerly wind blowing, embers were flying everywhere.

The gutters on the house above caught alight, ‘then the whole place went up’, he said.

A third house in Brownell Drive suffered minor damage. It, like the two houses destroyed, was unoccupied at the time, although holidaymakers had left the bottom house on Sunday afternoon.

Another Wategos resident, Angus Goozee, said despite being some distance from the blaze, he could still feel the heat from his balcony.

“As you can imagine, lots of little explosions and the surrounding trees were going up instantly,” he said. “I think every fire alarm in Wategos went off. It was quite a spectacle.”

Once the fires were extinguished, police set up a crime scene.

Byron Bay Police Duty Officer Inspector Owen King said forensic police and fire investigators were on the site on Monday, but it could be some days before the cause was identified.

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