Source: Newcastle Herald
UNABLE to breathe or see where he was going, Jim Tselembis thought he was going to die when trying to get out of his Mayfield whitegoods repair business, where he also lives, yesterday.
A black cloud of smoke could be seen across the city as large flames tore through Hunter Valley Whitegoods, on Maitland Road, and a furniture storage business which backs onto it.
Police and firefighters evacuated neighbouring properties, including SuperStrike Bowling, because of concerns the fire could spread.
There were 14 fire trucks on the scene, including two cherry-pickers brought in to tackle the fire from the roof, which collapsed.
More than 100 spectators gathered behind police tape, filming the incident on their phones.
Mr Tselembis said the fire had started when he was sitting down to have dinner with his wife Kris after a long day of work.
He said a neighbour came in about 6pm to tell him the back workshop area was on fire.
His wife went up to save their two dogs while Mr Tselembis ran to turn off the electricity at the meter box, hoping it would stop the fire becoming worse.
Then, when he tried to get out of the building, he couldn’t see because there were no lights on and black smoke was everywhere, he said. He could barely breathe in the ‘‘intense heat’’.
‘‘I feel like I want to vomit,’’ he said.
‘‘I couldn’t see a thing – all the smoke started pouring straight in.
‘‘I thought I only had a few breaths left in me, I thought I was going to die.’’
Mr Tselembis became emotional when talking about what the business, which he has run for 35 years in different locations, meant to him.
‘‘I’ve put everything, my life, into it,’’ he said.
He said they had insurance, but much of what they had lost was irreplaceable.
Mr Tselembis’s nephew Ross Ellett, who lives next to the whitegoods business, was covered in soot from watching what happened near his home.
‘‘I heard a loud bang so I came out – I thought it was a big car crash,’’ he said.
‘‘Everything went totally black – you couldn’t see anything.’’
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman there were no specific reports of asbestos but it was always a concern with old buildings.
The cause of the fire was still being determined last night.