Inside the Firestorm Report
This report was written in a year9 geography class. We had all lived through the Black Saturday fires. We'd seen the news footage, raised the money, and saw our fire fighters travel interstate to help. We'd celebrated the heroes and mourned the victims. We had seen the rebuilding, the regrowth, and the new hope. But this video was different. Three years on, and it brought tears to every child and teacher in the room. During the fires I never shed a tear. The four lessons we watched the video, I was trying not to ball the whole time. The difference? This was directly from survivors. It was their personal stories, their own footage. We'd seen this, but only to an extent.
Black Saturday was the worst natural disaster ever recorded in Australian history. A heatwave was sweeping the country for weeks prior; the bush was tinder dry, winds were racing at more than 100km/h. It was the perfect conditions for a bushfire to start. The fires were blazing for days and weeks, but Black Saturday, 7th February 2009, was the worst day. 137 people lost their lives, a further 500 were injured, 7000 people were estimated to be left homeless, 1 million animals died, over 430 000 hectares of land (forest, pasture and crops) were burnt out, 73 towns suffered directly, 2133 houses were destroyed, 1400 were damaged, 3 primary schools were burnt to the ground and another 47 were left damaged. These are just some of the statistics from one of Australia's darkest days.
Before the Black Saturday bushfires only one person in Australia had died trying to save a defendable house. Houses were often said to be the safest place to be, and residents were given the option of leave early or stay and fight. Jason Lynn lived in Kinglake West wife his wife Ruth and children Julia and Joshua. The family’s bushfire survival plan was to stay and defend the house, rather than leave early. The fire was growing closer when Ruth didn’t believe it was safe to stay. She took the children and fled the town later than what the CFA advised was safe, leaving Jason to defend the house. He recalls it going calm and the wind completely dying down, then the roar of the fire coming even closer to the house. While fighting the fire the water pump stopped walking and he went to see what the problem was, only to find the pump on fire. That’s when Jason fled into the paddocks, trying desperately to get to the dam, knowing it was his only chance of survival. He ran into fences and couldn’t get up and keep running Jason was barely conscious. His mobile than started ringing, and when he answered it was his boss urging him to find the dam. Jason found the dam and simply lay in there, waiting for help or death whichever came first. People came to the dam and Jason could hear them, but couldn’t yell out. Eventually they found him and Jason was taken to hospital, with his eyelids melted shut. While in hospital he also found out his family was safe in another town. Jason's neighbours died while defending their property, with a total of 16 people dying in Kinglake West alone. After Black Saturday the "Leave early or stay and defend" advice was reviewed, with residents now urged to leave their homes where ever possible, and never stay and defend on a day of catastrophic fire danger.
By mid-afternoon there were 10 uncontrollable fires burning, and 90 by evening. By that time 50 people had already lost their lives. The small town of Strathewn had only 250 residents but lost 22 people in the Black Saturday fires. 34 peoples were lost in Marysville, the biggest loss in Victoria, and 15 people in one street perished in Kinglake. Mick and Jan Clark lived in Kinglake, in brick house that was considered to be a safe house. For a large part of the day they had no idea how badly the fires were burning, and started preparing the house in a relaxed matter. In mid-afternoon two sister, Melanie and Emily come to shelter in Jan and Micks house as theirs wasn’t bushfire safe. Their daughter Becky's 15yr old son Mackenzie and 9yr old daughter Eve were also at their house, along with their son Danny. Mick and Danny go outside to fight the fire while Jan put the kids in fire proof clothes, and Melanie and Emily start wetting towels to put against the doors. Eventually the fire becomes too much for Danny and Mick to handle and everybody shelters in the lounge room. Becky calls and Danny answers the phone. When she asks how they are Danny tells her the fires all around us, we can’t do anything, we're stuffed. Shortly after that the windows blow in, and the curtains catch alight. Smoke fills the room and everybody scrambles to get out. Jan yells at the children to run for the back door, hoping they’ll make it out. Mick and Jan make it out, and can see flames filling the whole house. Jan runs in through the laundry but is forced back due to the roaring flames. Jan than rings Becky, and tells her the kids are gone. Becky doesn’t understand and says "Gone? Gone where," Jan was forced to tell her own daughter that her grandchildren had perished. Becky screams and screams, until the phone goes dead.
Bravery was one quality that there was an abundance of on Black Saturday. As well as the fire fighters and volunteers who were on the front line, there are the people who fled their homes, who were horrifically injured, who lost everything, but got back up and rebuilt their lives. Charlie was 79 that day and lived at Callignee. His house was engulfed in flames, and he crawled away on his elbows, watching the roof cave in. He was alone for 3hr and badly burnt. He began to hear cars going past so he crawled closer to the sound. By flashing a torch he managed to attract attention and a car pulled over to pick him up. The driver said he was extremely badly burnt, with his gumboot melted to his feet but he didn’t say one word of complaint, Charlie was simply grateful to have a drink of water. He, like so many others, was left with only a watch, a torch and the clothes on his back.
Many people have had their town completely obliterated by the bushfires. In Marysville, there was only one building left standing. Greg and Pam owned the Crossways Inn at Marysville and on Black Saturday Daryl Hull was with them. They saw smoke looming like cumulous clouds and went to the oval, a safety meeting point. When they got there the oval was empty, and because the CFA siren cut out people believed they were safe. At 5:34pm the first official warning was given, and Pam asks Greg whether she should go or stay and defend. He told her everybody must decide for themselves, he stays to fight the fires while she heads for the ovals. At the oval police are ferrying people to safety in Alexandria, but Daryl doesn’t want to die in a convey of cars, so he swims to the middle of the lake. When it’s safe Daryl returns to the oval and sees the whole town burning, with only one building remaining. Shops were burning, all the vegetation was burnt or on fire, the town was burnt to the ground. The one building left was the Crossways, which Greg had defended and saved.
Arson started some of the Black Saturday fires, causing distress and death. One of these started in the Black Ranges and pushed down to the Murrindindi River. There were many families holidaying here, including young families. One young woman was with her two young daughters, and when the fires came they were rushed into CFA trucks. Her youngest daughter was only 8 months old and was screaming and screaming. Her mother was having trouble breathing and knew her baby would die if she stopped breathing.
The bushfires were horrific events, which caused distress and trauma to many, many people. At Marysville the CFA captain was at the oval, unable to go anywhere. His pager was going off, with people begging for help as they are stuck in their homes or cars. However others were told that Marysville was safe. One CFA volunteer rang his wife who was working at a hospital a few towns away. She thought he was joking when he said the whole town was a blazing inferno, as news reports said that Marysville wasn’t threatened by any fires.
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