Victorian Bushfires Update

This afternoon I have been out as far as Hurstbridge mostly to check up on my sister and her family. On Saturday my sister and her family were preparing to go to a party at Eildon. Whilst getting ready, my sister heard a loud roaring noise and when they went outside they could see flames on the hilltop to the north east of their property. This was the first warning they had of impending danger – no mention of danger to St Andrews in the media or on the bushfire website. Quickly they decided that she and my niece would evacuate and her partner and my nephew would stay to defend the house. As it turns out neither situation was good. My sister was unable to get through to St Andrews (the nearest town), so doubled-back towards Kinglake. Ultimately she got through to a safe-house in Kinglake, but only after driving through an active fire front – breaking all the rules, but unless she had she would have died. Apparently the fire encircled the safe-house during the night, but because it was in an potato farm and the bush around the house was cleared, the fire fighters at the safe-house managed to save it.

My sister’s partner and my nephew tried to save the house, but the pictures you’ve probably seen on the news about the speed at which the fire was moving ultimately beat them. He said that if they had another 20 men with fire-fighting gear they may have saved the property. The only way they survived was to by escaping to their dam and jumping in, covering their heads with wet towels. Once again another no-no, but they said that had they not done this they would certainly have perished.

Ruth and I met with many people in Hurstbridge, each with their own story to tell. The overall feeling is one of incredible community spirit. I am sure that many tales of incredible heroism and incredible tragedy will emerge over the coming days and weeks. I know that my sister in her own way helped a number of people by forcing them to continue driving to safety. Her partner also, after leaving their property went from house to house making people leave and ensuring they got to St Andrews. He and my sister had no contact with each other for hours because the mobile phone system was out. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. My sister was also trapped in Kinglake overnight with active fires all around and all access roads cut. Once again, I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

For those birders that have asked, I have news on one well-known birding family – Ken and Annie Rogers and their son Danny. The Rogers live at St Andrews in Ninks Road. Unfortunately Ninks Road was devastated – 22 of 26 houses were destroyed, including theirs. Danny emailed me today in response to an email I sent earlier. All his family have survived but they lost their house and all possessions. I have no further details of their story, but I know that he has spoken with some concerned birders today. At least one person died in Ninks Road (I suspect more will be found).

I found out today that the township of St Andrews, including the famous pub have been spared. The fire came within metres of the town at around 6pm last night, but the cool change and accompanying wind direction change meant that the fire turned around. Kinglake West however has been razed, I believe that there are few if any structures remaining. Kinglake township has been burned to one side of the main road – including the petrol station, Italian restaurant and all houses on that side of town. Amazingly the other side of the main road and the town is untouched. Most of the deaths in the fires are in the Kinglake, Kinglake West and St Andrews area. Most of these are from people that were trapped in their cars, so I consider myself incredibly lucky that my sister is still alive.

I have no further information on the transfer of endangered species from Healesville Sanctuary today, but all the information I have is that the road remained open through the day so the transport should have got through. I will call either the Sanctuary or the zoo tomorrow – I figured that they had more pressing things to do than to speak with me today.

I also have no definite news on Yellingbo, but I believe that it has been spared. I will find out more information tomorrow, hopefully. Yellingbo would really have only been in danger had the Murrundindi fire complex joined with the Bunyip fire complex. Whilst this has not happened, the fires are still burning and are still threatening these areas.

I also have no definitive information on the damage to Bunyip State Park. I suspect that we won’t know that for some days yet.

I also am unsure of what actions are being undertaken for injured wildlife, including birds. To be honest it is too early to even consider this, unfortunately. The police and emergency services are not allowing people into the fire zone until they have cleared the roads and checked each and every burned-out house and burned-out car for casualties. I expect to be able to get out there tomorrow, and I will try to get in contact with wildlife carers then. Some bad news on this front – there was an injured wildlife shelter on a property between St Andrews and Kinglake. Unfortunately this property has been lost and all the wildlife that was being cared for perished.

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