Mother's heartache after losing child's ashes in blaze
THE FIRST night in her new home with her partner and 19-month-old daughter ended disastrously for Rebecca Whitby, who watched from the driveway as the house erupted into flames and the smoke alarm finally sounded.
The ashes and physical reminders of her child she lost four years ago were among the irreplaceable belongings lost in the Mitchell home blaze shortly after 1am Wednesday.
"Clinton (Gant) and I were sleeping, and he's a very heavy sleeper, but he heard this crackling noise and shot right up," she said.
"He ran to the lounge room and I thought he was dreaming so I went with him and saw the wall bubbling and smoke coming from the walls, out of a light switch.
"He knew instantly - he yelled out fire.
"He saw his keys and grabbed them and got me, my daughter and the dog out," Rebecca said.
"His daughter was at her mum's house that night, which was lucky I guess because she would have been distraught.
"By the time we all got out on the road, the fire alarm finally went off."
Clinton Gant had moved into the house three weeks ago and had just finished moving Rebecca's things from Dalby on the weekend.
"Everything is literally all gone," Rebecca said. "All my stuff, all his stuff, both of our daughters' things, as well as all the stuff that was left from a baby I lost four years ago - his ashes and his keepsakes."
The family has moved in with Clinton's parents, who live in Mitchell, while they try and rebuild their lives.
Rebecca said she had been overwhelmed with the support shown to them by the local community.
"Clinton's work has found us a house that we will slowly start to move our things into," she said.
"His aunt, she's an amazing woman, set up the Go Fund Me. She's just wanting to raise as much as we can so we can start again to have a bit of money behind us.
"We have had so many people give us furniture and we have even had tourists passing through town give us $50 or $200 just because they want to help. We still need a washing machine.
"Clinton has lived in Mitchell since he was a little boy. He's the type of person that would give the shirt of his back if someone needed it. And now the community is paying him back.
"We want to say thank you to everyone for everything."
Firefighters, police and paramedics were called to the scene at 1.20am, with crews arriving within 10 minutes, according to Mitchell Police officer-in- charge Adam Robertson.
"We were out of bed and at the scene in eight minutes," he said.
"There were a couple of fire crews from Mitchell and one from Roma came out.
"One police officer was also on the fire hose.
"It was still being dampened down and having hot spots put out at 4.30am."
All occupants were transported to Mitchell hospital with some smoke inhalation, but were released a short time later.
Sgt Robertson said it was unfortunately a timely reminder to ensure houses were equipped with working smoke alarms and that areas near flues were kept clean.
"What appears to have happened here is that bird and possum nests have not been cleaned away from the flue," he said.
"The flue has taken the heat and smoke from the wood fire out through the wood cavity and, over time, birds and possums have built nests near this opening because it has been warm.
"Please, clean your roof cavity away from the flue, keep it clear, and make sure you have adequate numbers of working fire alarms."