The close-knit community of Jamberoo is counting the cost after fire destroyed the town’s general store on Monday.
Police are investigating the cause of the blaze, which began at the rear of Fredericks IGA Jamberoo and quickly took hold about 3.30am.
The Allowrie Street store is owned by former Kiama councillor Trevor Fredericks and his wife Carmel Goldsmith.
‘‘We are devastated,’’ Mr Fredericks said. ‘‘It is a terrible blow for the whole town.’’
An unsuspecting Mr Fredericks was woken at 3.15am by a security call and he drove from his home in Kiama to the Jamberoo store to discover a fire at the back of the building.
At that stage the fire was on ground level, but it had also taken hold of the timber rear of the premises.
‘‘I called triple-0 and tried to extinguish it with hoses without success,’’ he said. ‘‘The fire services were here very soon after, but being a timber building the fire had caught on. It went into the roof and the whole building was alight very quickly.
‘‘The firefighters put up a water barrier to save the neighbouring property, the shop was beyond being saved but they contained it – they were very well drilled.
‘‘There was so much fuel to push the fire through I guess that once it started it was obviously impossible to stop.
‘‘There doesn’t appear to be an electrical fault, the police are investigating what has happened, it looks to have started externally at the rear of the building.
‘‘We are unsure of the cause at this point.’’
The store plays an important role in Jamberoo, particularly for the town’s elderly population, and the building itself had grown to become a landmark for locals and tourists.
Mr Fredericks, who also owns the Kiama Downs IGA, said his family would ‘‘need a day or two’’ to gather their thoughts.
‘‘We understand the town will still need some services and we will do whatever we can to fill that need.
‘‘It is a significant building in every respect.
‘‘The town has been very helpful in offering any support they can, it is a tragedy for us and for them as well.’’
Ms Goldsmith said a lot of people had said losing the store was like losing part of the family.
She said staff were heartbroken.
‘‘Some people are saying the store was a part of them ... it is just a building, but so much more has happened around it.’’
Jamberoo publican Erica Warren, who shed tears on seeing the state of the store after the fire, said it was a major blow for the town, especially on the back of the recent loss of its petrol station.
‘‘Hopefully we can get something back as soon as possible,’’ she said. ‘‘Even a temporary store would be good. It is such a shame, it was a beautiful building.’’
Late yesterday Lake Illawarra police said they were still in the early stages of investigating the cause of the fire, but were appealing to anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers on 1800333000.