Toys destroyed in fire as workers count cost

DEVASTATING: Toy warehouse employees Fran Pope and Erin Crombie outside their destroyed workplace on Monday. Picture: Simone De PeakThousands of toys have been destroyed in a warehouse fire at Bennetts Green, leaving staff devastated.

About 60 firefighters fought the blaze, which ignited about 12.30am on Monday and shut the Pacific Highway for several hours.

The RJ Wood Toy Warehouse, which also has a website called Toys Wholesale, had been operating at the site for more than 35 years.

The warehouse contained about 5000 productlines.

The company’s manager Fran Pope was told of the fire in the early hours of the morning.

“It’s well and truly gone,” Mrs Pope said.

She had the difficult task of informing workers.

“I couldn’t go back to sleep because I was worried about ringing the staff,’’ Mrs Popesaid.

Up in Smoke: A firefighter monitors the RJ Wood Toy Warehouse at Bennetts Green, which was destroyed by fire. Picture: Simone De Peak.

Mrs Pope said a few break-ins had occurred recently at the warehouse.

Three alarms were triggered on Sunday afternoon, but there was no sign anyone had entered the building.

While one alarm could be set off inadvertently, three at once usually meant someone was running through the building, she said.

Alarms went off again after midnight.

Asecurity guard sent to the scene found the building on fire.

“I don’t know whether it was deliberately lit by some insane person,” Mrs Pope said.

The company’s office manager Erin Crombie said the fire was a “massive shock”.

Ms Crombie said nine people worked at the company, a figure that doubled around Christmas.

Her thoughts were with the staff, some of whom had “been with us for 25 years”.

“It’s a huge loss for them,” she said.

She said insurance assessments and the fire’s cause would have to be determinedbefore a decision was made on the company’s future.

Firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to neighbouring businesses, including Hunter Pools.

Hunter Pools owner Tom Calder said the “firies did a damn good job”.

“I’m surprised because I have fibreglass roofing and skylights and there’s not even ember damage,” he said.

The highway was reopened in both directions about 6am.

A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman said water had to be pumpedfrom a distance, using a technique called “relay pumping”,to battle the blaze.

“It was an amazing effort,” he said.

Crews that fought the fire came from Charlestown, Tingira Heights, Belmont andNewcastle, as well as the Central Coast and a specialist unit from Sydney.

The fire was finallyextinguished about midday on Monday.

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