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Up in smoke

Rick had just finished putting away the grubby brushes and rags, just as he had done the previous day, then closed the old shed doors.

He had spent the morning putting the finishing touches to the verandah posts and was feeling very pleased with his handy work. 

Leone fed their old dog, which excitedly gulped down its food while watching Rick wheel the big Triumph motorcycle out of the garage. Their midday lunch was short and Rick was keen to get going before the afternoon heat kicked in. Rick smiled at her as he departed and she waved him off.

The day warmed quickly and Leone began preparations for her short afternoon shift at nearby Maldon. Around 4.30pm, she carried her bags to the car and noticed an "odd and different" smell in the air. She glanced around the small rural property, but noticed nothing unusual.

The easy ten-minute drive saw her start at work, just as the sound of the nearby fire siren was going off. Nothing unusual in that she thought…the fire siren was always going off. Leone had just settled into work when the phone rang and she immediately felt uneasy.

It was her frantic neighbour telling her to come home as their house was on fire. Explosions rocked the small village of Welshman’s Reef, while in the distance a spiral of thick black smoke rose into the clear blue sky. It was easily spotted by the Tarrengower fire spotter.

Leone’s heart pounded as she approached the scene. She is a 12-year CFA veteran from Kallista and the couple have not long been in the district. She met Rick at the house as Newstead and Maldon fire crews worked hard to limit the spread of fire and bring the job under control.

Guildford and Moolort brigades also turned out but were not needed. Newstead Police and local ambulance were dispatched, uncertain as to the cause of the explosions or potential human injury.

It was not Rick and Leone’s home that was on fire, but their old tool shed, which was destroyed. The blaze was fuelled by the contents of petrol, LPG cylinders and pressure pack paints.

There were no injuries and initially the couple were confused as to how the tool shed could have caught fire, as the shed was unpowered and had no obvious source of ignition. It was soon revealed that Rick's painting rags had been well soaked with linseed oil and placed next to the half empty bottle on the concrete floor in the hot wooden shed.

The attending older firefighters immediately recognised that spontaneous combustion coupled with a heating dwell time of the rags was the primary cause of the fire. 

Last Updated: 23 March 2017