Most people spend December gathering gifts ready for Christmas and preparing for holidays but for a Gunnedah family, it was spent trying to recover after losing everything.

Rachel McLauchlan had spent Saturday, December 9, 2023 trying to cool down with her two children on the sweltering hot day.

She said a smoke alarm from the back room had triggered at about 4pm, causing her daughter to become distressed.

“I rushed into the back room and noticed that the fire alarm was going off and I could just see the flames coming almost to the door,” Ms McLauchlan said.

She had yelled for her children to get outside before considering if there was time to save anything.

There was not.

Within the moment it had taken her to hesitate, she said the fire had intensified.

“Half of the door was already in flames by the time I managed to escape,” she said.

Standing outside and agonising with the thought she was about to lose all her belongings, the flames grew.

“We lost absolutely everything. In the back room were the girls’ Christmas presents and birthday presents were burnt too,” she said.

The fire had started on the door near the back of the house believed by Ms McLauchlan to have been caused by an old air conditioning unit, which was being tested before installed.

“Luckily, it was not put into the window because it could have been a lot worse,” Ms McLauchlan said.

When the Gunnedah Times spoke with her in December 2023, there were still ongoing formal investigations into the house fire.

“From what I could see, the electrical cord, that was what was on fire,” she said.

“It could have escalated a lot. We could have been trapped in that loungeroom before the fire brigade came.”

Ms McLauchlan said she had called the fire brigade at 4:17pm, they had arrived about 10 minutes later.

“By the time they got to the house the fire was already … [reaching] the roof,” she said.

“We had solar panels and they kept on catching alight.”

Ms McLauchlan and her children (seven and at the time five) were the only ones in the house at the time.

When the Gunnedah Times asked her how the community has been since the fire, her immediate response was “very supportive.”

“Especially straight after the fire. I had one of my friends, (because I ran out with no glasses, my handbag was still in there, I had no shoes) she went ‘here are some shoes’,” she said.

“I have already seen the Salvation Army. They have given me some food.

“There are a few other people who have given us clothes and a couple of toys for the kids.”

A friend had set up a Go Fund Me page for housing expenses.

As previously reported in the Gunnedah Times, the fire service had struggled to reach the house due to a high number of vehicles driving by.

Ms McLauchlan’s message was clear: “thank God for smoke alarms.”

“If it was not for that smoke alarm, we would have been in that house trapped in the fire,” she said.

“So just a message to everyone in the community, check your smoke alarms. Make sure they are working properly, make sure they are installed properly because it can happen in seconds. It is scary.”

She said it was shocking just how fast the fire had spread.

“Only split seconds I hesitated and I [may] not have made it out of that house, at all.”

“One second you could have your life almost there and then the next minute you have nothing.

“Tell my story and spread awareness to all the young families out there and elderly people, just anyone in the community, check those smoke alarms. They save lives.

“It can happen to anyone, I was so lucky to get out with my kids and just thinking of other people and how well the community can come together and support one another has really shown me that it is a pretty good town.

“Lucky, I am very lucky.”

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