News / Emergency

Fundraising campaign launched for fire victims

A neighbour says the Laura Street fire was like ‘a bonfire’

The scene in Laura Street on Friday morning.

Mark Phillips
Saturday, February 19, 2022

A PUBLIC appeal has been set up to raise funds for a Brunswick family who lost their home and all their possessions in a fire on Friday morning.

All three family members were lucky to escape with their lives from the blaze which destroyed the back half of the early-20th century weatherboard house in Laura Street. Val Williams, 74, and her 45-year-old daughter, Renee, who has muscular dystrophy, remain in a critical condition in the Alfred Hospital, while Alan Williams, 77, is in a serious condition.

About 30 firefighters took 45 minutes to bring the inferno under control after it was reported shortly after midnight on Friday morning.

Kim Jones, who lives nearby in Minnie Street, was one of the first on the scene before firefighters arrived, and has set up a GoFundMe appeal at the request of Mr Williams’ brother.

She said the family had lost everything in the fire, which completely destroyed the back of their house and was a threat to neighbouring properties before it was brought under control.

Ms Jones said she was woken by the smell of smoke at about midnight and initially feared her own house was on fire.

“I ran around my house and checked the kids’ rooms and then my daughter opened the front door and said ‘Mum, look’, and it was like a bonfire, the flames were really high in the sky,” she said.

“I just threw some jeans and shoes on and ran down there while my daughter called the fire brigade.”

Ms Jones said Mr Williams was still inside when she arrived and took some convincing to leave the burning house. It was only then that she realised there were still two other people trapped inside.

“I think he was in shock … He was just repetitively saying ‘They’re dead, they’re dead, my wife and daughter are still inside and they’re dead, I couldn’t get to them in time’.

“[He told neighbours] he was in the front room and the mother and daughter were in the bedroom and he just heard a banging on the wall between the two rooms and said ‘what’s going on?’

“And the mother called out to him the house was on fire. He said he hadn’t even smelt it or realised and when he ran into the room he couldn’t get to them, it was already that bad.”

It is believed the family has been living in the house for decades but mostly kept to themselves.

Ms Jones said she offered to set up the GoFundMe campaign after talking with Mr Williams’ brother, who is his only known relative.

“I think the first thing they need is clothing, they’re going to need some temporary accommodation. The house is completely gutted … It sounds like they’ve got no insurance and nothing left and with the daughter having a disability, she’s going to need a new wheelchair which is very expensive. They don’t have savings, they have nothing.”

The fundraising campaign has an initial goal of $5000 and Ms Jones said any amount would help.