All that’s left is a charred Stump
It used to be such a serene place, except when the neighbour’s kid decided he wanted to ride his motorbike up and down the sandy dirt road. It was a wonderfully rural area, small blocks with the neighbours far enough away to not hear your every movement but close enough to hear you ask for help.
It was essentially a valley, pine trees at the top of the eastern hill, gum trees at the top of the western hill and a bustling creek that meandered it’s way through the middle of the valley some hundred and fifty metres below the tallest of the trees. The estate was not private but it was privately maintained by it’s residents and everyone knew everyone else.
Even with the odd motorbike, barking dogs, snoring koalas and the often mooing herd of cows that wandered the common ground keeping the grass around the creek at a manageable level the place was relatively quiet and peaceful. That was until Saturday February 7 2009 when the most horrific and devastating fires since the 1930’s roared their way through the area.
Many parts of the state of Victoria were effected by the bushfires of that day and it’s not and will never be a competition as to which area suffered the worst because all effected areas suffered. The often gale force but always hot winds from the north/northwest mixed with the hot temperature were the ideal conditions for fire, no one needed that single inconsiderate arsehole with a match and by the time he made his choice many, many others had no choice.
From the top of the valley we could see smoke on the western horizon, smoke coming from fires that had been reported more than a hundred kilometres away. They were no threat to our area but the colour of the sky was more than enough to put an already alert area even more on edge. What we didn’t know was that one single match less than twenty kilometres away was about to change everything.
By mid afternoon sirens filled our local community, warnings of earlier in the morning to be vigilant and prepared for the worst had been ramped up to evacuate or stay to defend. There was no questioning of those who chose to leave, just as there was no question of those who chose to stay and defend.
Several hours before the sun was due to go down the blackened smoke filled sky turned day into night and the red glow coming from under the clouds was way beyond eerie and bordering on terrifying. The winds were still blowing and the fire that had been started less twenty kilometres from us was barrelling down on our small valley. Were we silly to stay and defend? Maybe, but what else could we do these were our houses, our lives, our community.
Of all the stories of that day some of the common factors that keep reappearing are about the thunderous roar of the flames, which in parts easily reached the hundred foot high tree tops. The ferocity and the amazing heat and the sheer speed that the fire moved. The fire in our area travelled something in the vicinity sixty kilometres in less than thirty minutes taking whatever it liked with it. These factors made the fire extremely difficult to fight and virtually impossible to keep ahead of, yet that did not stop people trying.
From fire fighters who stood on one side of the valley and fought hard, fought long and fought to save whatever they could while their own houses burned on the other side of the valley. To people who stood tall and protected their own properties and those around them, there is a hundred stories of success and even more of failure. Cattle were lost, sheds were lost, houses were lost and livelihoods where changed for ever.
In our little valley we knew the fire was coming but we couldn’t see until it hit the gum trees on the western hill and by then it was too late to run. But we knew that would happen even before we made the decision to stay and defend. The fire roared over the hill at a speed we couldn’t imagine if we hadn’t witnessed it first hand.
Several houses in the immediate area were engulfed, several garages and sheds were in flames and in the house three blocks up exploded. In no time at all our quiet peaceful valley was transformed into a wall of flames and in what was reported as less than five seconds the flames had reached the top of eastern hill and was burning it’s way through the pine forest.
Today the area is still recovering and while many things that happened that day still effect myself and others and many questions still remain there is one thing at has never ceased to amaze me. The selectivity of the fire. Our house still stands, our shed still stands and even when the fire was declared safe looking at both showed no signs of being close to a fire. Yet less than thirty metres from our shed our neighbours house, the house we helped build over ten years, their shed and their caravan was completely destroyed. In the ashes we found axe heads, jewellery, odd little trinkets and many many unrecognisable items which left us guessing but the only recognisable part of the house that was left was the foundations.
Over the following weeks the house and it’s ashes were cleaned up with very little being salvageable. Seven, nearly eight, years on and all that remains on that house block next to the house I grew up in is a single charred black stump.
Authors Note: This is a story as told to me by the “neighbours” whose house was lost in the fire with some aspects of ‘me’ added towards the end. The surviving house is the house I grew up in and we did help build the destroyed house over ten years. We were all involved in the clean up and recovery and we have since been involved in many aspects of the area’s recovery. However on Black Saturday this writer was protecting his family five kilometres in the opposite direction