No place like new home

NEARLY three months after a blazing inferno destroyed their Swan Hill home the Gray family finally have a permanent roof over their heads.

Fiona Gray and her family have finally found a home, three months after their previous one was destroyed in a house fire last November. Picture: CAITLIN McARTHUR

Fiona Gray and her family have finally found a home, three months after their previous one was destroyed in a house fire last November. Picture: CAITLIN McARTHUR

Fiona Gray, her two sons, her brother and his partner narrowly escaped a fire at their Garden Court home last November.

The flames which engulfed the property in the early hours of a Sunday morning destroyed their home of 11 years and the family car; and left them with just the clothes on their backs.

Ms Gray recalls the family's lucky escape from the residence, which left them trapped in the backyard, but still blocked off from safety by the burning vehicle.

Their screams brought neighbours to their assistance, who kicked the fence panels in to free them.

"Just the number of people in the court, I have never seen that many people in that small an area, and the time it took them to put it out," she said.

After the blaze was extinguished Ms Gray said there was very little left of either their home or possessions.

The family spent Christmas and a birthday in temporary accommodation, but have finally found a home, more than 10 weeks after that traumatic night.

Ms Gray said that period was spent at the homes of family and friends, and also included brief stays at Hilltop Resort and emergency accommodation provided by Haven.

She said the family moved frequently in an effort to not overstay their welcome.

Ms Gray said it was a hard and often disheartening time and she couldn't thank the community enough for helping them through it.

"We've managed to rebuild pretty well,”she said.

“It was tough for a minute there, just the feeling of being in limbo for so long and once it approaches two months you wonder if there is any light at the end of the tunnel really.

"You begin to wonder if you're going to get anywhere and how long it is going to take."

Ms Gray said the family moved into the transitional home just after Christmas, where they stayed for three weeks before finding their current house.

The good news came with a catch — it would be another few weeks until they could move in. But, finally moved in and settled Ms Gray said it felt like the family had managed to rebuild their lives and achieve a sense of normality.

"Now we have a house it's been quiet, it's been good, it was so hectic for a while there," she said.

The loss of the family car was also felt, but Ms Gray said she managed to pull some funds together to purchase a new vehicle just three days before Christmas — their first step back towards self-sufficiency.

It felt like a long time getting there but the love and support from family, with her parents on hand over Christmas, helping them get through the festive period.

The wider Swan Hill community chipped in too, with what Ms Gray said was an unexpected show of generosity.

"The help from people was just incredible," Ms Gray said.

"I was very surprised, I honestly didn't think many people would pay attention."

The Swan Hill Red Cross took the family shopping for some clothes and food a few days after the fire, while Mallee Family Care and multiple churches in the area all stepped up to make sure the family was well looked after.

Ms Gray also received a number of donations from individuals in town who also wanted to lend a hand.

While the fire destroyed toys, pictures and furniture, a search of the home unearthed the two family cats who survived the fire relatively unharmed.

Gremlin was only a kitten at the time of the fire.

"We found him in the bathroom, hiding in the shower... he was lucky to survive and very smart, heading for the bathroom," she said.

"We have another who survived, we found her among the rubble, screaming out for us, the poor thing."

Ms Gray said the most important thing after the fire was keeping the routine for her two boys as normal as possible.

"My youngest was at daycare and for my oldest son, the whole school was really supportive and understanding.

“If I didn't take him to school in those first couple of weeks I don't think they would have minded, but it helped him to stay grounded.

"The community helping out was really good for them, they felt safe among it all and they've coped alright."

Ms Gray said she is still haunted by that night.

"It happened so quickly and the thought of what could have happened if we didn't get out...but thankfully that didn't happen," she said.

Ms Gray said she owed a great deal to her neighbours who responded to their screams that night and who worked to get her kids and herself out safely.

"We stayed with them that night and when I can I'm going to go around and personally thank them, they played an important part," she said.

The memory of that night is something that will stay with the family for a long time yet, but Ms Gray said they still have good ones of the place too.

"The kids and I talk about the house, how much we miss it, we were there for 11 years, there's just a lot of memories."

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