HAUNTING: Survivors waited for mates who would never arrive
DOZENS of people stood in the street, shock written across their faces, wrapped up in sheets and blankets that offered little protection against the cold morning air.
Their faces were turned to the smouldering building which they had just escaped from, some climbing down from the roofs of neighbouring businesses to get out.
That is former Childers mayor and current Bundaberg councillor Bill Trevor's enduring memory of the Childers backpackers fire on June 23, 2000.
At the time, he didn't know there were 15 people dead inside the Palace Backpackers Hostel.
But the look on the faces of those outside the building hinted at the horror that had unfolded.
"They were just standing there staring up at the building," Cr Trevor said.
"It was almost as if they knew that a lot of their mates didn't get out, we didn't know that at that time, we just knew there were people missing.
"It was almost as if they were willing them with their stares to join them on the footpath.
"They were just staring a vacant stare up into the building.
"It's something I can picture in front of my eyes every day of the week, you'd better believe."
This week, Cr Trevor made a tearful plea to the Queensland parole board, asking that the man responsible for the fire, Robert Paul Long, remain behind bars.
Long has become eligible for parole at the time when the community, and the survivors and families who still mourn that night, are marking the 20-year anniversary.
"It just brings a lot of things back, you know," Cr Trevor said.
The councillor travelled to Brisbane alongside survivor Richard Tempest, to voice his opposition to long being granted parole.
He took with him 30 victim impact statements, which were presented to Queensland Parole Board president Michael Byrne.
A decision on Long's parole application should be made within 120 days.
Cr Trevor said there were three things survivors and their families still struggled with and which should be considered by the parole board.
One was the fact that of the 15 deaths that night, Long was only charged over two of them.
The second was that the man who took their lives of their friends had never shown any remorse for his actions that night.
Cr Trevor said the third was that it was merely good luck that more lives weren't lost, including those of the firefighters who bravely fought the blaze.
"I just don't know how someone like him could come back into society, I really don't," he said.
A statement from the parole board said it was understood the application from Long held a lot of public interest.
"It would be inappropriate for the board to make comments in relation to the particulars of an application before it," the statement said.
"The board's purpose is to make independent, transparent, fair and evidence-based parole decisions which appropriately address risk to the community."