‘I thought he had died’

Mark Collins was visiting friends in Buninyong last Saturday morning when he took a call from his neighbour in Sebastopol and heard the words: "your house is on fire".

Panicking, he immediately called his partner Shelley, who was on a walk at Lake Wendouree.

But his son Jacob would not answer.

"I was convinced he was still asleep in his room," Mark said.

"I can't describe the gut-wrenching fear and emotion.”

A massive fire was tearing through Mark and Jacob’s weatherboard house on Alexandra Street.

Driving back from Buninyong, the worst was swirling through Mark’s mind as he saw a massive black plume of smoke billowing into the sky.

More often than not, deaths in house fires are a result of smoke inhalation, not from being burned.

“I had it in my head that Jake was dead, I honestly thought he was,” Mark said.

“I was on the phone to Chris, my neighbour, and that was difficult for her, because I said to her, tell the fire brigade that Jake is still in that house.”

When Mark pulled into the street, he saw Chris and Shelley with a big emergency contingent already on scene, including fire trucks and police cars.

“I tried to run in myself but they held me back,” he said.

Mark arrives on scene. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Mark arrives on scene. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

“Once the firefighters knew Jake could be in there, they were trying desperately to get inside, the fire was just too intense.” 

Mark reached for his phone and tried to call again.

Suddenly, Jacob picked up – it turned out he had also decided to go for a walk.

“I can’t explain the feeling when I saw him, it was just amazing,” Mark said.

“We just embraced and it was just a huge relief.

“But later, total devastation. We’ve lost everything.”

Mark is speaking out as he wants to thank all of those who helped last Saturday: neighbours, firefighters, police, family, friends and the Red Cross.

"Shelly, Jacob and I are incredibly grateful for your bravery,” he said.

All of their belongings were lost except for a few photos.

The fire's aftermath seen from a neighbour's house. Picture: Kate Healy

The fire's aftermath seen from a neighbour's house. Picture: Kate Healy

The CFA has launched an investigation into the cause of the blaze.

Mark runs a landscape gardening business, Creative Solutions, and is looking for work as his family starts to rebuild their life.

To get in touch, phone 0405 218 648.