Families in need and youth stand to lose the most from the fire which gutted the Salvation Army’s sheds on Sturt St, Echuca, early Wednesday.By Renee Thompson
Toys destined to sit underneath the Christmas trees of families in need are among items to have been destroyed in a fire that gutted the Salvation Army’s sheds on Sturt St early Wednesday.
The Salvos’ sheds suffered the worst out of what police believe were three deliberately-lit fires in Echuca. Dahlsens hardware and the Epicentre Op Shop on Ogilvie Ave were also targeted.
Mark said it was 1am when they received the call and, after calling Salvation Army headquarters in Melbourne to get someone else from the church to inspect the damage, immediately decided to cut short their holiday to drive back to Echuca to see for themselves.
Mark said it was a sight to behold.
‘‘Most of the shed has gone,’’ he said.
‘‘We had a functioning youth hall which we were just a few weeks away from renovating. All the materials for the renovation have either been lost or water damaged.’’
‘‘The majority of the Christmas toys are gone. There were about 20 or so boxes of Christmas toys. They were stacked up to the roof.
‘‘We’ve salvaged as much as we can, we’ve tried to sort through what we can.
‘‘Then there are the welfare mattresses we provided victims of the January 2011 flood. They’re all gone.’’
The Smiths, along with other church members who had gathered at the site to help with salvage efforts yesterday, showed the Riv through the remnants of the building.
One Salvation Army member estimated 720 square metres of functioning shed space was lost.
Burnt board games, video game consoles and melted coloured chairs forming a twisted, mangled mess could be seen scattered throughout the big shed at the back.
Items in the smaller shed at the front, the former youth hall, were almost completely unrecognisable — apart from the frames of a few couches, white goods and, somewhat poignantly, a handful of Bibles on a shelf.
Belinda said she was taking encouragement from the Bibles’ survival, the majority of which remained intact despite their charred covers.
‘‘It is devastating and it’s heartbreaking because the youth and the kids of our church and our community have put in a lot of effort into getting this shed up and going so they’ve got a safe space to hang out," she said.
‘‘But there’s no point being angry because that just creates a spirit of revenge and that’s not going to be helpful.’’
She said she took it to be a lesson in how to ‘love thy enemy’.
‘‘The only way through this is to love whoever did it because hopefully something will touch their heart and they’ll change,’’ Belinda said.
‘‘Whether they did it deliberately or accidentally is not for me to judge.
‘‘We don’t know what path they’ve had in life or what journey they’ve travelled.
‘‘For all we know, it could be someone who’s been really badly hurt and this is their way of dealing with it. We don’t know.’’
Belinda said she understood the community would be angry but wanted to communicate a message of hope.
‘‘It’s disappointing and you just think, ‘why, why would you do that?’,’’ she said.
‘‘But I think being angry is not going to achieve anything. Moving forward will, particularly to show our community and our youth that no matter how hot the fire gets, there’s always hope and there’s always restoration,’’ she said.
Still, one of the hardest things was knowing among the destruction were items which could not be replaced, Belinda said.
‘‘We do know there will be things we cannot replace that insurance will not cover,’’ she said.
‘‘There’s things like foosball tables, table tennis tables and playstations, we don’t know whether they were purchased or donated. Things like that we can’t replace.’’
Mark said the sheds would need to be pulled down and replaced — he expected rebuilding would take some time.
‘‘It’s not just our loss, it’s the community’s loss. But we’re trying to stay positive, we will rebuild,’’ he said.
He called on the community for support.
‘‘We’re going to need someone to help out for six months with building. We need somewhere to store all of our stuff.’’
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