Arsonists hit heritage home

A HERITAGE-listed home in Murwillumbah went up in flames early yesterday in what police suspect is the latest in a series of arson attacks in the town over the past 10 days. The 60-year-old federation-style house in Byangum Road was unoccupied when the rear section was set alight about 1am. A dozen plastic wheelie bins were also torched in nearby Nullum Street about the same time, forcing the local brigade to call for extra assistance from Tweed Heads and Kingscliff. Next-door neighbour Rhonda Roberston said she was awakened by the noise of breaking glass and exploding timber about 1.30am and immediately called the fire brigade. Ms Robertson said she knew the house was unoccupied, and her immediate concern was for the safety of her own home, where her four young children and two foster children were sleeping. "There were embers flying everywhere, and for a time I was really worried that it could spread to my house," she said. "But the brigade arrived on the scene within minutes and did a fabulous job in bringing the fire under control. "They stayed until about 3am, making sure the fire was completely extinguished, then came back again early in the morning to check that it was no longer smouldering." The fire destroyed the rear half of the unoccupied house and caused smoke and scorch damage to most of the front half. Murwillumbah fire brigade chief Greg Hayes said resources had become stretched when 12 wheelie bins were set alight in Nullum Street about the same time as the house fire, although they did not pose an immediate threat to other property. He said brigades from Tweed Heads and Kingscliff had been called to help fight the fires because of the risk of embers reaching nearby timber buildings. Forensic investigators who sifted through the burnt-out remains of the house yesterday confirmed the fire was "of a suspicious nature". Tweed Heads Inspector Darren Steel said police were determined to catch the culprits responsible for the house fire and other recent arson attacks in the town. "We have a strategy in place to catch the person or persons responsible, but we can't say anything further at this stage for fear of compromising our on-going investigation," he said. Insp Steel said crime scene investigators from Lismore had removed material from the scene for forensic examination. "We would request that anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious around the time of the fire to contact police or Crime Stoppers," he said. Captain Hayes said it appeared that the arson attacks were escalating, with the house fire one of the most serious attacks in recent weeks. "If those responsible are not caught soon I think there's a real risk that a life could be lost in one of these fires," he said. Capt Hayes revealed last week that the number of call-outs had doubled in the past 12 months, from 230 in 2006 to 430 last year. Monday night's fires follow a spate of arson attacks last Saturday week involving three cars, a phone box and a pine tree outside the All Saints %Anglican Church in Byangum Road, just across the road from the latest house fire.



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