POLICE are investigating a suspicious fire that destroyed an Echuca unit yesterday.
Plumes of smoke could be seen billowing from streets away as the Garden Crescent unit went up in flames about 11.30am.
Two pumpers from Echuca and Moama and three tankers from Echuca Village, Tongala and Bamawm Extension rushed the blaze, which took 25 firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish.
CFA Campaspe Shire district 20 operations officer Michael Masters said he was unsure where the fire had started but police had taken over the investigation because it had been deemed suspicious.
‘‘It’s likely to become a criminal matter,’’ he said.
‘‘Forensic chemists from Melbourne will examine the scene and investigate the circumstances of the fire.
Mr Masters said two people were seen leaving the property before it went up in flames but it was unknown who they were.
He said 50 per cent of the unit had been fire damaged while all of it was smoke affected.
‘‘There was a risk of the fire spreading to sheds in the adjoining properties,’’ he said.,
‘‘When the crews first attended the fire, they weren’t able to make access for a search because of the intensity of the fire. The fire had broken the front windows of the unit and there was an intense fire burning when the crews were walking up the driveway.’’
One police officer — Echuca’s Senior Constable Simon O’Toole — said he was in Campaspe Esplanade when he saw the smoke.
‘‘It was that thick we thought it was a car fire,’’ he said.
He also said the address was known to police.
Curious onlookers flocked to the street to see what was going on.
One man said he was near the Paramount Theatre in High St when he saw smoke billowing into the air.
‘‘I’m from Fire and Rescue in New Zealand so I thought I’d bring all the kids to show them what they all do,’’ he said.
A nearby resident said she was alerted to the blaze by a woman who told her a house was on fire, while another neighbour alerted the authorities to the fact a female occupant had two kittens in the house.
Firefighters stayed on scene for some time after to ventilate the building.
‘‘We like to ensure the environment is safe for people as there are hazardous gases so there is a sensitive ventilation process,’’ Mr Masters said.