How did a house burn down in the middle of a cyclone?

UNTOLD STORY: Lisa Pallister was set to move into 97 Broad St in Sarina before it went up in flames during Cyclone Debbie.
UNTOLD STORY: Lisa Pallister was set to move into 97 Broad St in Sarina before it went up in flames during Cyclone Debbie. Jacob Miley

WHEN Cyclone Debbie was lashing the coast, Sarina woman Lisa Pallister expected trees to fall down; not for a house to go up in flames metres from where she and her three children were sleeping.

On Tuesday, March 28, it was raining and wind was blowing every way it could - still the four-bedroom weatherboard home on Broad St burned to the ground.

Her story was lost amid the chaos of Cyclone Debbie, and now, five months on, all that is left of the house is the burnt rubble and the set of white stairs that look strangely out of place.

An investigation into how the fire started in the middle of a cyclone and flooding rain is still ongoing.

On the night of the fire, Ms Pallister's daughter had fallen asleep on the couch and had woken to the heat.

It was then she saw the red glow from the window just after 2am.



Ms Pallister grabbed her kids and ran outside to the far side of the house to protect them from the blaze that had engulfed the home metres from theirs and waited for emergency services to arrive.

She said she was disappointed Queensland Fire and Emergency Services didn't arrive sooner.

"The woman on the other end (of the phone line) said to me 'you do know there is a cyclone going on'," she said. "I just let rip over the phone, 'I do know there is a cyclone going on, I've got three children out in the damn thing because the house next door to me is on fire'."

So all they could do was wait while the fire got bigger.

"The balls of flames were literally touching the side of the house and the roof and all I could think was my house is going to go up, I could lose everything," Ms Pallister said.

"All I grabbed was my kids and we were out.

"They were screaming, shaking."

The rain continued and the wind was going in every direction and all Ms Pallister could think was "how can this happen in a middle of a cyclone?".

"I thought to myself, surely the rain would put it out, but no - it kept going," she said.

When she spoke to a Queensland Fire and Emergency Services officer she said he called her extremely lucky.

"He said, 'If it wasn't raining, your house would have gone up too, then the following house would have gone up because of the wind'," she recalled.

QFES were called out another two times the following day as the fire restarted, though it was just smouldering as the rain continued.

Now, the property remains relatively untouched as it was an ongoing crime scene until recently, as the fire was deemed suspicious.

The investigation into how the fire started is ongoing with no concrete answers.

Owner of the property Trisha Marriage owns four properties along Broad St in Sarina, including Ms Pallister's home.

When she was called to alert her to the fire, Mrs Marriage didn't believe it was true in the midst of Cyclone Debbie.

She wasn't able to assess the damage until the following day as she was cut off by the cyclone - but when she did, she said it was "gut wrenching".

The house had been vacant for some time and didn't have power, so Mrs Marriage first thought someone had been sheltering from the cyclone.

Now, her insurance claim can't go any further until the police report is completed.

The head of the investigation at the Sarina Criminal Investigation Branch was contacted by the Mercury, however he was not available.

For Ms Pallister, she considers herself and her family extremely lucky: She was just weeks away from moving into the very house that burnt down, after wanting a bigger house for her children. All that was left to organise was the re-carpeting.

Topics:  blaze cyclone debbie house fire mackay police qfes

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