For the last couple of weeks, while I have been in Singapore, Victoria Australia has suffered the worst natural disaster in it’s modern history. Extremely high temperatures (reaching 50?C +) and strong winds, combined with a very long period of draught, has seen to the perfect conditions for this disaster to take place. By now the world has heard of Black Saturday, where 210 + people died at Bush fires around the State. Of a particularly sad note for me personally was the loss of a very fine Actor I had the pleasure of working with many years ago. His name was Reg Evans and he was a true gentleman. We had worked together on a Television Commercial for Landrover at a place called Narbethong. The irony of it all was that while he past away at Kinglake, Narbethong was also completely burnt out in the fires.
The day I returned back to Melbourne, the temperatures soared again and fires broke out near the township of Daylesford. I grew up here and I’m extremely attached to the district. My Grandmother taught music at the local high school and my Grandfather settled here for a while. Later my own parents continued to bring myself and my sisters to taste the naturally occurring mineral waters, swim at Lake Jubilee, and go hiking in the National Park. So when I heard about the report of fire in the Wombat State forrest, my heart sank.
I have been a Twitter user for some time but slowly had formed the opinion that it was another useless web 2.0 technology I really didn’t need. Well on this day I found out how amazing a technology like Twitter really can be. I had subscribed to the CFA (Country Fire Authority of Victoria) feed and was getting realtime updates on events. That night, while all other media was vague and sketchy, I was glued to the Twitter feed as the fire spread rapidly across the district. From what I was reading, I knew my Sister and her Husband’s farm was in serious danger. Having spent New Year there only recently, the Farms proximity to the huge Wombat State Forrest was ringing alarm bells for me. I contacted my good friend Tibor Hegedis, who lives in Hepburn Springs only minutes away, to see what he knew. The strain on his voice said it all. He had packed up all his most important possessions and thrown them into his car and was heading for the Daylesford Town Hall to spend the night there. An Emergency shelter was erected at the Town Hall. He was telling me that he was confused as to what was going on. An Ember storm had began on the outskirts of town and people were gathering on the top of Mt Wombat to get a view of the approaching fire storm. It was choking with smoke in the center of Town. Alert Messages were issued for Daylesford and the surrounding areas, warning of direct interaction with the fire. Then suddenly, the Twitter feed announced that the wind had changed and the town was no longer directly inline with the advancing flames. I quickly rang Tibor who wasn’t able to get much information before, to let him know. I slept not knowing what had happened to my Sister and Brother in-laws farm.
Simon, my Brother In-law, contacted me to see whether I would be interested in going up to Daylesford by Helicopter. Many of the roads were still cut by fire and given that there were probably dangers such as hot metal objects and other hazards, a Helicopter was a good choice. For a couple of days he tried to negotiate clearances to fly in, but the fires around Daylesford were huge and took much longer to quell. Eventually we were given clearance to fly up and today we conducted a survey of his farm. Simon is a very pragmatic person, who is extremely grounded and realistic when it comes to his outlook on life. I have seen him under all sorts of stresses related to his work and other matters. On the flight up, he told me of how he and his wife had their rather expensive bikes stolen outside Feds Square in Melbourne. So I knew that what ever had happened to his farm in Daylesford, he was prepared to handle it. When we arrived and overflew the house, I looked back at him. He was excited.
On landing and looking around, we could not believe how lucky the Farm house was. Fire had literarily licked the building but somehow left it be! Every building had survived miraculously. In some instances fire went right around them. The Sheep had some how skirted the flames also. Only two Rams had to be put down down for burns. A Donkey called Diego, which originated from the Northern Territory (along with another Donkey called Moses) had also survived. Moses was killed by lightning a couple of years ago leaving Diego on his own at the farm at Daylesford. Diego has lived through snow storms, draught, and now bushfire! All in all a very happy ending. The entire property was burnt out. So there is no feed for the animals. For the time being they will have to fed by hand. In places, fire was still smoldering and even at one point burst into flames in front of us! A CFA truck had to be called in to put out a fire in an old tree in the gully but overall, incredibly lucky. There are some photos of Sheds that have been burnt down. They belong to a Neightbour to the South of the Farm and another to the North. Both are also very lucky to still have a roof over their heads.
These photos are from this survey by Helicopter of the Daylesford Fires.