A TAMWORTH family of five had a lucky escape from their burning home during the early hours of Saturday morning.
Melanie Caldwell, her six-year-old daughter, Charlii-jene, partner Mick Manderson and four-month-old twins Bella and Jarrod lost nearly everything in the blaze.
But they have their lives, thanks in part to the fact they had been sleeping under fans in the main living area of their Drummond Rd home to escape the heat.
“We had all been sleeping in the family room during the summer, because it had fans and was the coolest in the house,” Miss Caldwell said.
“Things would have been much worse if we had all been in our bedrooms.”
Just after 4am on Saturday, Melanie and Mick were woken by a smoke alarm.
“It kept beeping, like it was going flat. Then we went to have a look at the front and when we opened the door, there were just flames everywhere,” she said.
The pair grabbed the babies and Charlii-jene and ran across the road.
“Mick tried to go back in after we were all out, to get the car keys and our wallets, but he couldn’t get back in,” Miss Caldwell said.
“He had tried to go back in because we had been paid on the Friday and had taken out all our money to do the groceries and pay bills on the Saturday.”
Across the road, neighbour Everlyn Mansfield told The Leader she had been awake and smelt the fire.
She was the first person to call triple-0.
“I came out to check what was going on and all I could see was flames,” she said.
She was crossing the road to see where the Caldwell/Manderson family were when they burst out of the burning home.
“They were very lucky they got out when they did,” she said.
After seeing the family were safely out of the home, Ms Mansfield and her children began to wake other neighbours to alert them.
“We were worried that the fire might spread, or that the car parked in the driveway might go up,” she said.
Another neighbour, Rob McMenamin, said he had heard a window smash and ran outside.
“The car alarm went off when they were trying to move it out of the driveway, because the keys were still inside the house,” he said.
Rob was one of several neighbours who had used garden hoses to try and douse the flames and dampen nearby gas cylinders.
“We didn’t really know what else to do while waiting for the fire brigade,” he said.
In the end the house and its contents couldn’t be saved.
Not only did the family lose everything except the clothes on their backs, Charlii-jene’s Christmas present, a Maltese terrier puppy, Isabella, died in the fire.
“She is devastated,” Miss Caldwell said.
“We have told her she must have run away. I don’t think she would cope if we had to tell her the truth.”
Miss Caldwell had lived in the housing commission home for the past four years.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” she told The Leader.
“Our main priorities have been making sure the kids are okay and that we had somewhere to stay.”
The family moved into a motel on Saturday afternoon.
Donations of items to help care for the children, including clothes and portable cots for Bella and Jarrod, have already been forthcoming.
When asked if there were any items they needed immediately, Miss Caldwell said school clothes and items for Charlii-jene, who attends Oxley Vale Public School, would be the next priority.
“Hopefully we can find a way to get some fuel for the car, too,” she said.
“With no money, all these appointments and an empty tank, things might get a little more difficult.”
Today they will meet with the housing department to try and find a new home.