Graham Hart describes falling to his knees and sobbing when he first lay eyes on the debris from the massive fire in Brookvale on Monday evening.
We know the fire started at the Hart’s automotive services shop, but not yet exactly where or how.
A crime scene has been established, but that doesn’t rule out it being an electrical fault or an accident. With the site too unsafe to step inside, it’s simply considered ‘suspicious’ and a ‘crime scene’ until proven otherwise.
Graham tells us his current thinking is some device plugged into the wall in his office. But he said when he left work on Monday nothing had been done or used differently to any other day previously.
“That’s what I find hard to get my head around,” he says, putting his hands on his head while surveying the damage yet again. “it was just another Monday. Like, we came in. Came to work, worked on stuff, locked up.”
It’s an awkward question to ask someone who’s lost a lot, but we ask about suspects, given it is still considered a crime scene.
“Do you have any enemies?”
It’s clear he doesn’t think anyone has targeted him, or would, and he says he fully respects that police have to go through due process to rule him out as a suspect.
He stares into his workshop and is tearful. There are steel beams contorted into pretzels. Charred utes.
“I don’t think people realise what I’ve lost. We actually cut back on our insurance cover during covid and so do you think we had gotten around to pushing it back up again? Even with a payout, nothing can replace what I’ve lost. This business has been in my family for four generations. This place is my constant. This place is my home.”
Hart’s great grandfather started the business in the 1920s, then his grandfather and father worked at it, and then so did he. He took the business over with his best friend Matt Vine 14 years ago.
He grew up playing in this space, he says. He had a number of his own vehicles- as well as customer’s vehicles – inside. Insurance wouldn’t cover close to what they are worth.
“I’ve got two R33 skylines in there, one Evo 8, FG, an FPV (Ford Performance Vehicle),” he says, pointing to burnt out frames we can see from the behind the police tape.
The business had just hit its stride, it had been at its strongest month yet, and they’d bounced back considerably since the COVID downturn, he said.
He watched the fire from the street and on Manly Observer, and his grandfather saw it online too and gave him a call.
His father and grandfather handled the news well, and were mostly concerned with how Graham was coping emotionally, he said.
The generations of “G”s (they all have first names starting with G), had just been reunited by the sad circumstance of his aunty’s funeral.
“I’m not sure it’s all hit me yet. But I just wanted to meet you here today to send a message of thanks to our clients and really the whole community, I’ve had so many messages and calls and offers of support and it has meant so much.”
Graham says when they find their feet they’ll rebuild the business and have total faith their customers will be there when they do.
The Harts family cannot access even emergency funds until police can get into the site. They are trying to continue to support their team of four and are even continuing to work off site at friends’ workshops.
If you’d like to support them to find their feet, we have verified this go fund me account.
What about the other businesses?
We understand there has been some smoke and water damage at Big Air Bike Park but the site has generally been spared.
With the AAGI gymnastics centre completely destroyed, and the fire only just contained at the Smooth Moves site today, it will take some time to fully know the extent of the damage.
We spoke with the gymnastics owners in a previous article.
We wrote to Smooth Moves this evening and invited them to talk or make a statement when they are ready. They are no doubt working around the clock liaising with the scores of locals with their lives in storage waiting in hope to hear if their belongings have survived the fire.
We observed sections of the building being demolished on Friday, but this is not the entire site.
The fire operation and investigation
Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) confirmed with Manly Observer that they had transferred the control of the site to NSW Police this afternoon, Friday 14 July.
“Police will continue the investigation with FRNSW assisting as required,” Superintendent Adam Dewberry said.
“Where and how the fire ignited is still to be determined.
Firefighters only just finished extinguishing the blaze this afternoon, Friday 14 July, handing the site over to police to keep the site secure and continue their investigations.
“Since Monday evening when FRNSW has remained on site with more than 300 firefighters and 90 trucks attending the site to extinguish the fire.
“It was a complex situation to resolve with parts of the building requiring demolition to enable firefighters to gain access to deep seated fires that were hidden under the collapsed areas.
“Other difficulties included high fuel loads particularly in the storage facility of the building.
“FRNSW also worked with the EPA and Local Council to monitor the water run off from the firefighting efforts. Firefighters installed and then replace a number of booms in the waterways to protect the environment.
“When the fires were put out the property was handed over to police.
“Further work needs to be completed to make other areas of the building safe so investigators can enter and continue investigations.”