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Police have released CCTV footage of a person fleeing a $24 million heritage-listed mansion on Sydney’s lower north shore shortly after it became engulfed in 20-metre high flames, as detectives continue their investigation into the “deliberate” blaze earlier this month.
Emergency services were called to the waterfront home on Cliff Road in Northwood – which boasts spectacular views, a tennis court and a boathouse – following reports of a major house fire on Saturday, September 3.
About 50 firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze over two hours, but the house sustained significant damage. NSW Fire and Rescue said about 30 calls were made to triple zero.
No one was at home at the time and no injuries were reported.
An investigation by NSW Police has since determined the fire was deliberately lit, and detectives believe an accelerant was used.
Detective Chief Inspector Richard Puffett, co-ordinator of the financial crimes squad’s arson unit, told reporters on Monday police were looking at a “number of possible persons of interest” and “a number of motives” for the alleged arson.
The house in Cliff Road, Northwood, was gutted by fire.Credit:Edwina Pickles
A development application process is one of a number of lines of inquiry investigators are still in the process of establishing, he said.
The owner of the property, fund manager Ouyang “Owen” Chen, is now assisting police with their inquiries, Puffett said. He flagged a “lengthy process” ahead as investigators examine the circumstances surrounding the fire.
A few months before he bought the property, Chen had lodged a development application with Lane Cove Council to demolish the house he owned next door and rebuild a contemporary, four-storey residence with a swimming pool at a cost of more than $5 million.
Ten objections were lodged to that DA, which was knocked back in October in a nine-page document that included issues with the bulk and scale of the project, as well as having “an unacceptable impact on the heritage” house next door.
In July, Chen lodged a review of the rejection.
“There are people out there who know more about this fire,” Puffett said. Detectives now hope CCTV showing a person of interest entering and exiting the property about the time the fire was lit would prompt anyone with information to come forward.
In the video, a person dressed in dark clothing can be seen walking from the road into the property before later fleeing just after 10.30pm as the house catches alight.
Detectives are also urging anyone who may have any dashcam footage from vehicles driving along or parked on Cliff Road on September 3 to contact police.
“It was a huge firestorm,” he said.
Neighbour Wayne Rigney told Nine News the fire was “quite apocalyptic”.
“It raged for about, I’m going to say, 40-50 minutes.”
The home is one of the oldest in Northwood and was originally built in 1915.
It was previously owned by the late travel industry doyenne Mary Rossi. She and her late husband Theo Rossi bought it for £16,500 in 1961.
Claudia Rossi Hudson, one of the 10 children raised in the home by Mary and Theo Rossi, said the family had been shocked by the fire.
“The loss was really when we sold the family home last year, but at the time we thought we’d always be able to drive by and remember what a joyous and happy life we had in that house,” she said.
It was sold last November for $24.1 million to Chen and his wife Xiao Hong Li, who lived next door.
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