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Family lose car, caravan and precious belongings in a suspected electrical fire while travelling in SA

A NSW family who spent years preparing for a road trip across Australia have lost almost all their most precious belongings in a caravan fire.

The Goncalves family left their family home on the NSW Central Coast to start their year-long travel across Australia in November 2023.

On Friday, January 12, while in South Australia, they stopped at a campground at Fitzgerald Bay, about 36km northeast of Whyalla, to go swimming.

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Lauren Goncalves said she was inside their caravan with their eight-month-old daughter, Ocea, when she saw smoke coming from the rear passenger seat of their 2023 Nissan Patrol.

“I just ran outside with my daughter … I gave my daughter to my mum and my dad and I jumped straight into action,” she said.

The fire was believed to have started in the family’s Nissan Patrol. Credit: Supplied
The remains of the caravan. Credit: Supplied

About 10 other people at the caravan park tried to help the family put out the fire.

Lauren said, despite their efforts to extinguish the blaze, the fire destroyed both the car and caravan.

“We had no water, we had minimal fire extinguishers,“ Lauren said.

Her husband, Nathan, added: “We got to a point where we exhausted everything to the point where I was just throwing sand … I just had to tell myself there was nothing we could do.”

Lauren said it was most difficult to hear her son, five-year-old Ezra, screaming and crying as they tried to save their small home.

“It was the hardest thing to sit back and watch it burn. We just sat there and literally crumbled,” she said.

“The hardest part for me was when I saw the roof of the van cave in, and I knew that was it and our lives were about to change forever.”

Another family at the campsite provided clothes and some money to help the Goncalves in the days following the fire, as they stayed at a hotel and then a caravan park.

Nathan said the family had spent more than $200,000, while they were working administration for their solar company, setting up to travel across the country.

While insurance will cover almost all the cost of the caravan and car, many sentimental items were lost in the fire including Nathan’s wedding band, items Nathan’s late father had given him, the children’s belongings and toys, Christmas and other presents, family photos and letters from the children.

“It’s one of those things you never think is going to happen,” Nathan said.

“We only had a $1000 worth of content cover on our caravan, so everything we had in our caravan is not going to be covered.”

He estimates the family’s belonging inside the caravan were worth between $50,000 to $100,000.

A Go Fund Me has been launched to help the family.

The Goncalves family: Nathan, Lauren, baby Ocea and Ezra. Credit: Supplied

Nathan said Ezra was most traumatised by the fire because he lost some of his favourite toys including a teddy bear, named Bear Bear, that was given to him as a baby.

“He was just sitting there screaming out ‘Bear Bear’ and (now) he randomly just says, ‘I can’t stop picturing the fire in my head’,” Nathan said.

Nathan, who is an electrician, believes — based on its intensity — the fire was a result of an electrical fault.

He said a lithium battery which was kept in the car to power a fridge may have short-circuited.

Nathan warned other families to always have a fire blanket and extinguisher available.

He said none of the extinguishers other families at the campground provided were suitable for electrical fires.

He also warned people travelling in caravans to regularly check batteries and electrical equipment.

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