Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Victorian Bush fires Our Experience

Some of you will note the irony of my blog name!!!


The following is a brief account of what happened to us over the night of Saturday 7th February 2009.

The morning of Saturday was bright , hot and beautiful. We were aware of the northwestly winds that were due to turn the day into a marathon heat event of 45 degrees and that we were to be aware of fire warnings.

About 1.30pm in the afternoon we again turned on the ABC radio to hear of a huge fire that had started in Churchill in a pine forest and this fire was travelling very fast towards the south east. We knew there was a wing swing due that evening, and that would turn what was now the long side of the fire travelling away from us into the front of the fire heading our way.

We spent the Sat afternoon making final preparations as Ian was determined at this point in time to stay and defend the house.

Fire in the afternoon heading South East away from us at that time. No smoke over our way, estimated distance from us as the crow flies 30kms.

On the Sat evening about 6pm I noticed that the wind was dropping from the North West ( I am an old 'sailor' and keep an eye on the wind) It seemed to be coming around to the West. The 'Cool Change " as we in Victoria like to call the change of winds that come to cool things down, still wasn't supposed to come to this area for about 3 or 4 hours according to the radio broadcasts telling where the winds had already changed .....so what was going on here??

Then we noticed that there was a glow from the fire not just from the south but somehow it was all around us to the rear of the property. Not flames but that red glow.

I went into flight mode. I couldn't stay.... my legs wouldn't stay on the property. After getting some sort of agreement from Ian that things were different /weird he said he would leave the house and meet me in Traralgon after he had hosed the house down again. So I finally left the house at about 6.15, Ian finally left at about 6.30 after hosing it down many times with the independant firemans hose.

We estimate the fire front came through about 6.50. So, we were very lucky to get out, as the road out is devastated… The wind shift to the South West with winds of 100+ kms came earlier than anyone expected and I think this is what caused so many lives to be lost …..well possibly at Callignee.

The drive into Callignee alone was very frightening as I was shaking allover, the anxiety of having left Ian was horrible. When I got to a nearby road juction there was a road block set up....no one was allowed back up into the hills. There was alot of screaming and yelling of people desperate to get back up to ..... I guess loved ones who would soon be in the path of the fire.

Some people must have run the blockade because on my way down a car passed me going the other way about 160kph, nearly out of control on the bends , so I became aware of the danger of car accidents. Same thing happened with Ian, two cars sped back the opposite way when he left.

It was about now that the wind changed properly to the South West and a huge black cloud of wind and smoke descended on the whole area. Day literally turned into night with terribly fierce winds blowing ash and embers over a wides spread area. One house I know of in the area escaped the fire, but had it's roof blown off. No wonder they couldn't put the fire trucks in front of the fire and also why there was no helicopter support, the winds were too strong.

After registering with the Red Cross we were put up at Murphy’s Motel. Radio reports about Callignee were sketchy, so Ian and I at about 12 midnight drove out to the traffic lights at Loy Yang where there was a road block…..hundreds of people but still no news of Callignee. No one knew what was happening there because no trucks went in because the fire was travelling too fast and no one got a message out because everything was burnt.

At around 4am, Ian and our neighbour who was also at Murphy’s and has a large beef cattle farm, sneaked back using back roads that were at this time still open. We knew by reports that the fire front had gone through and there was no wind, so they promised to take no risks… .. we were all wanting to know what had happened.

When they got to our area, they feared the worst as the road in was shocking. First to our place which was still there…...they put out some fires and then to our neighbours whose house was still there and they put out a fire in his machinery shed, using buckets of water from the swimming pool ……alas his hay shed and a lot of the cattle had perished.

The road to our place

They came back to pick up the farmers wife and myself…I cried tears of joy when Ian told me the house was OK. So at 6.30am on the Sun 12 hours after we had left, we drove back to the house where we stayed for days without contact except for our battery radio. No one was allowed in or out of the area because it was declared a crime scene, although a ‘check point charlie’ was set up and generators, food and water was handed over at the border.

The ground around the house is just blackened earth, but there is some green in the tree tops particularly down the front, so they should come back OK. The garden at the very front of the house is OK as well.

Ian's much loved shed is OK, and wonder of wonders, our pet possum survived although she is singed. I felt her all over and though her coat and tail fur have burns (from embers we think) , she has no wounds…...on the Sunday night she ate two pears and then skipped off into the blackened trees. The house had sheltered a small tree which had sheltered her possum box.

Points which I feel why our house is saved when our immediate neighbours’ houses burnt down.

The wind came down the hill to us. If fire races up hill it is faster and the house is on a level with the tree tops.

We had raked all leaf litter and twigs, and mowed the area up the hill behind the house…..knowing that the winds come from that direction.

On one side we are next door to a farm whose cattle had grazed the land from the direction the wind/fire came.

Ian hosed the placed down and filled the gutters at the last minute

We think the fire went out on the house because the gravity fed polyprop pipes attached to a galvanised tank would have melted in spots and sent a spray of water over the flames under the eaves….perhaps…we can’t understand why it went out otherwise.

And just luck or whatever you call it …….but then unlucky to be in the path of a fire that resulted from awind swing, that had come from a huge fire deliberately lit.

Well we’re Ok and that’s the main thing, and my heart goes out to those who are not as fortunate as ourselves.

I'll post more to this at a later point

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of rugged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terrorThe wide brown land for me!

Dorothea Mac Keller (1885 - 1968


Gardening at the Junction said...

I think your home has a Guardian Angel.

Dee said...

I am stunned at the devastation of your property. How the house survived is beyond me. I am so glad you two are alright physically. I do hope your emotional wounds will heal with time, Dee.

Where are we?

Callignee is situated in the foothills of the Strezlecki 's in Gippsland, Victoria.