A KORUMBURRA woman has lost all of her possessions and a local family’s business has been destroyed after a fire tore through the two properties in the early hours on Sunday morning.
CFA crews were called to what police are describing as a “suspicious” fire in Mine Road at around 2am on Sunday.
On arrival, they found the shop owned by Frank and Antonella Auddino for more than two decades, engulfed in flames.
Despite the best efforts of a large number of CFA personnel operating from nine trucks, the strong winds saw the blaze spread to the adjoining house causing damage worth more than $100,000.
Crews from Korumburra, Kongwak, Leongatha, Leongatha South, Loch, Poowong, Ruby and Traralgon were unable to contain the blaze.
The home, in which Renee Hendry was a long-term tenant, was destroyed, as were all of her possessions. Her car, which was parked in the driveway, was also ruined.
It is believed she was not insured, leaving her literally with the clothes she was wearing (See details on page 8 about how you can help).
Leading Senior Constable Brett Guy of the Korumburra Police said Ms Hendry was woken by the sound of the fire and immediately ran from her home.
“By the time the fire was noticed it was fairly well alight,” Ld Snr Const Guy said.
“Initial investigations indicate it originated at the rear of the shop and then spread to the house. The CFA were unable to do anything to save either of the buildings.”
Ld Snr Const Guy said Ms Hendry was staying with and being supported by family following the blaze.
For more than 20 years Frank and Antonella Auddino have owned the Mine Road shop and son George says the couple are devastated by the weekend’s event.
“It is their livelihood,” he said.
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“The devastation comes from a number of things – the fact that the initial investigations show it was suspicious and my parents are really struggling to understand why anyone would do that.
“And then you have Renee next door, an innocent bystander who has lost absolutely everything, even her car.
“It’s just not fair.”
Mr Auddino says there is also an “element of anger” being felt by his parents, who he says have had trouble with youths loitering in the back of the shop for some time.
“For quite a long time they have contacted police to say there are kids out the back, empty alcohol bottles and things being damaged,” he said.
“It is something my father feels may have been preventable.
“Someone could have been killed in this fire and if it is because police are understaffed, it is just not good enough.”
While the shop was no longer open as a retail outlet, Mr Auddino said it was the base for his ‘market gardener’ father.
“It’s not just the building – there were machines and equipment there… All the snow peas and sugar snap peas in the cool room have all been destroyed,” he said.
“It’s even the simple things like the docket books, chequebooks and invoices. There is nothing in there that we can save. It is all gone.”
Mr Auddino said while his parents were insured, it will not cover the costs of their loss.
“When you have a building and the machinery inside that is worth in excess of $600,000 and you have an insurance policy with a four at the front of it, it is pretty hard to take,” he said.
Mr Auddino said while his family has received a huge amount of support from the local community, the Auddinos hope Ms Hendry becomes the main focus.
“My mum is just so devastated for Renee. My parents are only concerned about her loss,” he said.
“This poor woman has lost absolutely everything, through no fault of her own.”
He also thanked the local volunteers for their efforts over the weekend.
“A big shout-out to all the volunteers – it was a really long day for them,” he said.
“It is probably one of the biggest fires in the town since the high school burnt down, but this one has unfortunately directly devastated innocent lives.”
The community effort was wide-spread with Traralgon Breathing Apparatus Unit also assisting and relief crews from Kongwak and Mirboo North called in throughout the day.
Kelly’s Bakery in Korumburra also assisted, providing meals for the volunteer crews.
Nearby residents were evacuated and a large crowd witness what was an extremely intense, hot blaze, despite the late hour.
DESPITE speculation that several arrests had been made following the fire, police say investigations are still being undertaken.
Ld Snr Const Guy said the Wonthaggi Criminal Investigation Unit is investigating with fire investigators and forensic teams both visiting the scene on Sunday.
“At the moment it is being treated as suspicious,” he said.
Ld Snr Const Guy said rumours that several people had been taken into custody in the early hours of Sunday morning were incorrect.
He also said it was too early to say if the Arson Squad would be involved in the investigation.
Support for Renee
A ‘GO Fund Me’ fundraising page has been set-up to help support Ms Hendry following Sunday morning’s fire.
The initial target of $1000 was reached within 15 hours of the site being set-up and it is continuing to grow.
Ms Hendry is a long-term Korumburra resident and well-known volunteer in the community.
If you would like to donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/eqdnh8rg.