By CRAIG McTEAR
SEL and Ila Rogers had no idea the fire engine roaring past them was headed for their home at Safety Beach.
Sel, 77, and Ila, 76, were in Woolgoolga on Monday afternoon collecting goods for a rotary club auction when their daughter-in-law tracked them down to tell them their house was ablaze.
They'd been gone for only 15 minutes or so.
"I just went flat. It's something which is very hard to describe," Sel said.
"You feel helpless and devastated," Ila said.
They rushed back home to a terrible sight. Their two-storey brick home, where they've lived for five years, was engulfed in flames, and many of their belongings were up in smoke.
One of those prized possessions was a paint-ing commissioned by their family for their 50th wedding anniversary.
"It was hard last night, but we're surviving," Ila said.
"Our home is replaceable, and we have insurance, but the most important thing is we have our lives."
They also have many good friends who rallied around them yesterday as they salvaged what they could, and began the big clean-up.
Sel and Ila are staying with their family for the time being, but they're determined to restore their home to its former glory.
Neighbours had rung 000 about 4pm on Monday to raise the alarm, and Woolgoolga Fire Brigade crews arrived to see smoke coming from the roof.
"It was good, quick thinking on behalf of local residents to dial 000," Woolgoolga station commander Ray Webb said.
"They also removed a caravan and a boat from the carport.
"The fire quickly gained hold of the house, and we were concerned the flames could spread to surrounding properties."
Crews from Coffs Harbour Fire Station and the Rural Fire Service arrived to help their colleagues.
Firefighters with breathing apparatus braved the flames while other crews tried to protect possessions on the ground floor from smoke and water damage.
Mr Webb said 60 per cent of the house had been lost.
The roof and top floor ? including a kitchen, toilet, bathroom, three bedrooms and a living and dining area ? were hardest hit with extensive fire and water damage.
On the ground floor, the garage and other rooms had water damage, but fire crews managed to save family photos, a billiard table and computer equipment, and other treasured items.
Emergency personnel were at the scene for an hour, and remained behind until 11.30pm in case of any flare-ups.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.