?I?ve lost everything? . . . Dennis Backhouse and his son, Dennis junior, in their front yard yesterday.                 Photo:
?I?ve lost everything? . . . Dennis Backhouse and his son, Dennis junior, in their front yard yesterday. Photo:

GUTTED!

By CRAIG McTEAR

ALL single dad Dennis Backhouse had when he moved his young family into Toormina was a couple of garbage bags of clothing.

Over the subsequent six years, the former logfaller has invested all his compo package turning the Sawtell Road house into a happy home.

But today, the 56-year-old is left with only the shirt and strides he's standing in after fire gutted the three-bedroom Department of Housing property on Friday night.

The damage is estimated to be $200,000.

Sadly, he had no contents insurance, and he'd just forked out $200 on groceries for himself and his 16-year-old, Dennis, who lives with him.

They're now relying on family and friends to help get them through the crisis, and the Housing Department has organised a week's accommodation in a Sawtell Caravan Park cabin until another house is found.

But what Dennis senior wants more than anything is to return home.

"All our friends live around here,' Dennis said yesterday.

He admitted to feeling on edge about the future, but a meeting with department officials today should give him a better idea about the next steps he'll have to take to rebuild his life.

Dennis rarely ventures out at night, but Friday was different. He was celebrating the 32nd birthday of his eldest son, Troy, at Middle Boambee.

Dennis junior was at a friend's place, but his Staffordshire kelpie cross, Jess, remained behind, along with his chooks, finches and quails down the backyard.

When trusted neighbour Lyn Kneller drove home at 7.40pm, she heard what sounded like a clock alarm beeping next door, but she came inside shortly after it stopped.

About an hour or so later, she thought cars had crashed in the street, but when she looked outside, she saw flames coming out of a side window at Dennis' house, and rang 000.

At least four anxious motorists stopped their cars and raced to help.

"The fire started in Dennis's bedroom and it seemed to go through the house really quickly," Lyn said.

Once they'd established no-one was inside, firefighters from Sawtell and Coffs Harbour spent the next two hours battling the ferocious blaze, and stayed at the scene until early morning.

"The roof collapsed during the fire due to the intensity of the heat," Sawtell Fire Station commander, Keith Rhoades, said.

Emergency crews closed Sawtell Road between Toormina Road and Wirrabilla Drive for two hours.

Dennis and his family couldn't believe it when the bad news was telephoned through. The fire was out when they arrived at the scene, and Dennis was left with the awful realisation he'd just lost everything.

He's since been told a neighbour saw someone with a torch in his yard before the blaze broke out.

Police are continuing their investigations into the cause of the fire.



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