A devastating year for house fire victims goes from bad to worse

SEEKING THE SOURCE: Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters and investigator Phil Ettienne scoured the burned home, with an accelerant detection dog on Friday.
SEEKING THE SOURCE: Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters and investigator Phil Ettienne scoured the burned home, with an accelerant detection dog on Friday.

A WEST Nowra family was left with nothing after their home was destroyed by fire on Thursday afternoon.

Rex and Carol Cluff were not at home at the time their two-storey home in Cavanagh Lane was burnt.

They later learned their dog was found dead by fire fighters.

At the time of the fire Mr and Mrs Cluff were in the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, where Mr Cluff has been a patient for seven months after breaking his neck in a car accident at Dapto in February.

The couple’s daughter, Allison Hokin, said the last 12 months had been extremely hard for the family.

Her mother had been diagnosed with a heart condition, her father with terminal prostate cancer nine months ago and then the accident seven months ago which left him a quadriplegic.

“We didn’t think things could get much worse, now the home that dad built with his own hands has burnt down,” Ms Hokin said.

“This weekend was supposed to be the first time dad had been allowed to come home for a visit.”

The visit did go ahead with the couple staying at a local motel.

“All he wanted to do was to get home, sit on the back deck have a cup of tea and see Peggy, who he has been missing desperately,” Ms Hokin said.

“Mum has been in Sydney for the past seven months with dad.

“She’s virtually been living out of a suitcase just coming home occasionally on weekends.

“It’s been one hell of a year.

“We were going to convert the house to make it more wheelchair friendly for dad and even install a lift.

“We were looking for somewhere for him to stay until we could do that but now we need to find somewhere for mum as well.

“He has some movement in his arms and can feed himself.

“I don’t know what we are going to do know.”

Ms Hokin, who lives at St Georges Basin, was on the way to visit a friend’s when she was phoned and told her parent’s home was on fire.

“I saw a lot of smoke in my rear vision mirror and I thought, then found out it was our house,” she said.

“I helped dad build it in 1988, he did it as a bicentennial project.

“I remember helping him stand up the frames.

“He will be heartbroken.”

The fire attracted a lot of attention in the neighbourhood as Fire and Rescue NSW brigades from Nowra and Berry along with Rural Fire Service brigades from Illaroo Road and Greenwell Point fought the flames.

Neighbour, Barbara Myers was one the first to notice the fire.

“I just couldn’t believe it. It just went up so quickly,” she said.

“The Cluffs are such lovely people, I have lived next to them for seven years and they are terrific neighbours.

“I can’t believe what they, as a family, have had to endure in the past year.

“It was bad enough with everything else that was going on, let alone now losing their home. They have faced such hardships.”

She said the couple would be devastated with the loss of their beloved pet toy poodle, Peggy.

“She was 15-years-old, Rex loved her.”

Police and fire investigators were back at the scene on Friday morning trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Investigators and scientific police scoured the burned home, with an accelerant-detection-dog used to search for the cause of the fire.

The Cluff’s son, who was staying at the home while his parents were in Sydney, is helping police with their enquiries.

The damage bill is estimated at $900,000.