Car yard owner John Grum has told how he ran for safety after spotting flames at the back fence of his William Street business on Saturday.
The deliberately-lit fire destroyed 130 old cars in Mr Grum’s scrapyard, causing at least $20,000 damage.
It also forced the evacuation of 240 animals from the adjacent RSPCA shelter, with many suffering smoke inhalation.
Police have charged a 13-year-old boy with lighting a grass fire behind the yard. He has been granted bail to appear at a children’s court on Monday.
Five NSW Fire and Rescue units and six Rural Fire Services tankers attended the blaze, which broke out about 3pm.
However, firefighters’ initial efforts were hampered by a lack of water from the nearest mains supply.
It took crews 25 minutes to set up relay pumps to a Byng Street main to fight the blaze, which took four hours to extinguish.
Mr Grum said he was working in the holding yard of his JG Auto Sales business on Saturday afternoon.
“I was on the forklift when I saw flames coming over the back fence,” he said.
“I was going through the gate and I happened to look over and saw it.”
He said he leapt from the machine and ran towards the front of the property.
“I’ve got a massive clean-up,” he said as he surveyed the damage on Sunday.
“If the firies had more water then there would’ve been only three to four cars burnt,” he said.
TEEN CHARGED AFTER FIREFIGHTERS’ FOUR-HOUR BATTLE
Firefighters battled for four hours in record hot weather to contain a deliberately-lit blaze that destroyed 130 wrecked cars and forced the evacuation of 240 animals from an RSPCA shelter in William Street on Saturday afternoon.
Crews from NSW Fire and Rescue and the Rural Fire Service had to contend with thick clouds of billowing smoke and explosions from the cars in the JG Auto Sales holding yard.
Police said they were told a group of young people were seen walking along a grassed area between William Street and the railway line and that one of the group was allegedly seen lighting fires before grass caught alight and the group fled.
Canobolas Local Area Command officers later arrested a 13-year-old boy at a house in Dalton Street.
He was taken to Orange police station where he was charged with destroy property in company, cause or set fire to the property of another or Crown and fail to comply with the direction of the Minister.
Police said the teen was granted conditional bail to appear at a children’s court on Monday.
VIDEO: Footage from the scene of Saturday’s fire:
NSW Fire and Rescue spokesman Superintendent Mark Reilly said when crews first arrived on the scene they found there was insufficient water in the nearest main.
Mr Reilly said it took crews 25 minutes to set up relay pumps to access a main in Byng Street to get enough water to extinguish the blaze.
He said firefighters had to use water from the tankers to start fighting the fire.
“It was touch and go, it was very close,” he said.
Orange City Council spokesman Nick Redmond said the nearest main was a small “four-inch” main and could not deliver sufficient water for the firefighters.
“There was water there, there just wasn’t enough,” he said.
Mr Redmond said the main was scheduled to be replaced with a larger six-inch main in the next two weeks.
Car yard owner John Grum said the wrecked cars were stored in his holding yard to be sold for scrap metal.
He said the blaze had cause up to $20,000 damage to them, in addition to a major clean-up bill.
Mr Grum was working in his yard when he saw the flames and then stood by helplessly as firefighters sought sufficient water while the blaze destroyed his property.
“My disappointment is the poor old firies had no water to fight the fire,” he said.
HEROIC ANIMAL LOVERS SALVAGE LIVES FROM RSPCA
RSPCA workers and public volunteers evacuated around 240 animals from the RSPCA William Street shelter as a huge fire destroyed the adjacent car yard.
Many animals suffered smoke inhalation and around 15 were still being treated on Sunday afternoon.
While workers managed to evacuate most of the animals, several cats had to be left in their cages after fire officers ordered staff to leave at the height of Saturday’s fire.
NSW RSPCA executive manager for animal care services Brendon Neilly praised staff for their efforts in rescuing the dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and even three sheep from the William Street shelter.
“It was a remarkable effort,” he said.
Mr Neilly said the animals were housed at various boarding kennels and veterinary surgeries around Orange on Saturday night.
He said three sheep that were at the shelter had been moved to land offered by Transgrid.
He said support crews from Dubbo and the Blue Mountains arrived on Sunday to help local workers.
“There were just on 240 individual animals that were evacuated from the shelter,” he said.
“We’ve still got 15 animals still needing veterinary treatment at the moment.
“One dog has a small spot burn.
“We’ve had a few cages damaged by smoke and water.”
Mr Neilly said the fire also damaged electricity wires and left the shelter without power, but an electrician was on site on Sunday.
Fire officers gave them the all-clear to begin re-occupying the building on Sunday afternoon, but he said it would take several days to return to normal.
“We hope to have it up and running by Wednesday,” Mr Neilly said.