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the Breeze

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EDITORIAL FIRE IT STARTED WITH A PALL OF BLACK SMOKE, WINDING UPWARD! The Friendly Bay Islander knew there was a ‘real problem’ on Russell Island very early on Sunday the 6th of August. We had taken a 6.20am ferry to the mainland, with the intent of visiting the Caboolture Markets north of Brisbane. Heading over in the passenger ferry, we were speaking with popular and long-serving island ‘dekkie’ John Francis. It was then we noticed a huge plume of smoke coming from the islands behind us. The plume was headed almost vertical and it was almost black, with puffs of white. “That looks serious,’ we commented to John Francis. It wasn’t until we got to the Caboolture Markets that our phone rang and Cr Mark Edwards was on the line. He told us of the tragedy that had unfolded in our absence and that it was apparent that five children and their 34-year-old father have been killed in a fire that destroyed their family home in Todman Street; located in that section of island homes that are named after Melbourne Cup winners. The father, two four-year-old twins and three other siblings aged three, 10 and 11 were left unaccounted for following the fire. That was the information at that time, and the version of events was different than was what to follow soon after. Cr Edwards rang soon after we started heading back to the islands saying that the father had re-entered the home in an attempt to save the children. On returning to Russell Island, we joined the ‘press corp’ that had now accumulated in Bernborough Street, on the corner of Gunsynd Street. We discovered that not only was the family home in Todman Street totally reduced to ashes and tin, but the next door house was almost burnt to the ground as well. Another home backing on to the main house burn, located in Gunsynd Street, was also badly damaged. The island community had clearly been impacted and many responded in setting up support for the many first line respondents that had been activated from fire, ambulance and police sources. Protection coverage and food from the Russell Island RSL, Supa IGA and others was welcome. State Member for Redlands Kim Richards had got to the island quickly (still wearing some night wear) and went about organising, food, clothing and help for the residents of the other two homes; this continued until about 8pm. Attending a ‘de-briefing’ with Cr Mark Edwards at the Russell Island Fire Station, we got to understand the involvement on the volunteer Russell Island Fire Brigade. It is clear that these volunteers are ‘heroes’ to have confronted the blaze that is now being described as one of the ‘worst’ in Queensland’s history. Nearly an hour and a half after they arrived at the scene, support fire teams arrived from Redland Bay to take over. By then the Russell Island Brigade had the fire under control, with the mainlanders finishing the job. Our island brigade, under fire chief Larry Hoffman, were brilliant. They are our island heroes! We have since attended the scene on multiple occasions, and have been working and assisting the team from the Courier Mail and Sky News. There was some speculation from some of the national media who put a different spin on the story to indicate that the fire was ‘suspicious’! Police hierarchy later clarified their position by saying they had established an investigation centre at the scene (normal in these circumstances) “because there are some elements of this incident yesterday that do require closer scrutiny.” They went on to say: “No determination has been made at this stage as to whether this fire is suspicious or not.” Five days later it was determined ‘not suspicious’.



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