The night Curl will not forget
THE Palace Backpackers Hostel fire on June 23, 2000 stands as Childers’ worst disaster, and Col Santacaterina, or Curl as he is known, remembers it so vividly it could have happened yesterday.
“I remember everything,” he said.
“It was so foggy. I went past it on the main street about midnight and didn’t even see it.
“There were only four of us there when we arrived with the truck and we thought ‘holy s**t’.
“We knew we were in trouble.”
Mr Santacaterina led the recovery effort, helping rescue about 76 people from the building, including 20 who were stranded on the roof.
Despite his 20 years’ firefighting experience, Mr Santacaterina had never encountered a fire like this.
“It was so hot it melted the beacons on the truck,” he said. “We’d only had it a week at that stage.”
The fire killed 15 people, and Robert Paul Long is serving a life sentence for murder and arson.
DEVASTATING: An aerial view of the Palace Backpackers hostel the day of the fire.