Homes destroyed in Victorian bushfires
December 27, 201510:00am
More than a hundred homes on the Victorian coast have been destroyed by fires over the Christmas period.
UPDATE: Devastated Victorian residents have begun returning to their charcoal homes after a raging bushfire razed 116 coastal homes over the Christmas period.The reality of the devastation will hit hard on Sunday as Wye River locals return to the town where a third of homes have been destroyed, says Colac Otway Shire Council mayor Frank Buchanan. A 2200-hectare Jamieson Track fire burnt through 98 homes, while nearby Separation Creek lost another 18 in a fire triggered by a lightening strike on December 19.
“It was a traumatic time. Now reality is settling in,” Cr Buchanan told ABC News.
“We had a quick look with a few people last night who lost their homes.” Firefighters will begin the arduous task of cleaning up the damaged areas, which includes removing hazardous trees and reinstating power and phones.
The town’s tourism industry has also taken a hit as roads to the area remain closed and accommodation cancellations pile up, he said.
“The emergency services are working very hard to get the road open,” he said.
Those affected by the brutal Christmas Day bushfires will be able to soon access up to $1300 in emergency relief under a joint state and federal government scheme.
The fire could continue burning until January or February, with the dousing of rain on Saturday unlikely to do much in the long term once the state begins to dry out.
CFA deputy incident controller Mark Gunning says that despite a downgraded warning to a watch and act, people must remain vigilant.
The story of a Victorian firefighter who watched his own house burn to the ground while trying to save the homes of his friends is what stands out most for Terry Woodcroft.
A resident of Wye River for 40 years and now the area’s deputy mayor, Mr Woodcroft has seen it all when it comes to the small tourist town tucked away in bushland on Victoria’s surf coast. Until Christmas Day, Wye River and the nearby town of Separation Creek were not well known in Australia.
But now, they have become the towns most affected by a raging, 2200-hectare bushfire triggered by a lightning strike on December 19, which has destroyed 116 homes, 98 of them in Wye River.
“At the moment, I’m at the Surf Club in Wye River just looking up the hill at the couple of residences that have been destroyed by the fire,” he told AAP on Saturday afternoon.
“For a person such as myself who lives in this shire, it’s quite a sobering site to see homes not unlike my own completely destroyed.” Mr Woodcroft said he was amazed at the resilience of those who have lost everything.
“I was talking to one gentleman earlier in the day who is a firefighter and he was visibly trying to save other areas of the town and was able to see in the direction of his own home while it was burning down,” he says.
“What’s striking me at this stage is just how strong everyone’s being.” AAP photographer Julian Smith said the main street of Lorne was “post-apocalyptic” on Christmas Day, as lit-up restaurants had tables laid with half-eaten food, clearly abandoned in haste. “Outside a Chinese restaurant there was a banquet of full dishes idling on an al fresco table. Some of them haven’t even been touched. It’s clear they have dropped everything and run for their lives,” he told AAP.
Although Lorne residents were given the go-ahead to return from 9am on Boxing Day, howling winds and delayed rainfall on Friday had people believing the predicted ember attack would wreak havoc on the popular holiday town, Smith said.
One of the most moving scenes captured by Smith was of a woman tending to two horses while two young children slept on fold-out beds on the main street of Lorne.
“I thought it was very sweet,” Smith said.
“The woman obviously loved her horses so much.” Saturday has been calmer, but for the fire still burning. It is time for people to face the devastation left behind by the blaze, something Mr Woodcroft says is difficult to see.
“There are lots of people hugging, being emotional,” he told AAP.
“They’re just so stoic, so staunch, perhaps consoling people. They’re just bearing up as best as they can.” However, it’s not only people who suffer in bushfires.
Amy Hidge from Wildlife Victoria says while it’s still too early to say how many animals have died in the fire, people who come across an animal that “looks off” should call Wildlife Victoria. “We understand that at the moment looking for animals is a low priority, but at this stage we just need people to look out for bush-affected animals,” she told AAP.
“Often, you can’t see if the pads on their feet have been burnt or if they have smoke inhalation, so we’re saying that if they look a bit off, they’re probably bushfire affected.”
EARLIER: The 2000-hectare fire is not yet under control and could still continue burning for weeks. But Lorne residents did get some good news today when they, along with the people of nearby Allenvale, were told they were no longer advised to evacuate. The road to Lorne was reopened, although a watch and act instruction remains in place.
“The recommendation to evacuate for Lorne and Allenvale is no longer current,” a Country Fire Authority notice said on Saturday. “These communities have not been impacted by fire.
“There is no immediate threat to the community but this could change with alteration in weather conditions.
“People can now return to the area but remain vigilant.”
Some people are returning to nothing, after their homes and properties were burned to the ground. The number of homes lost in the Great Ocean Road bushfire has now been revised up to 116.
Authorities say 98 homes have been lost in Wye River and a further 18 in Separation Creek have been destroyed.
This afternoon many locals attended community meetings at relief centres in Apollo Bay and Torquay to listen to advice from authorities about what to do next.
And the fire danger isn’t over yet.
Although the CFA has downgraded the fire warning to a watch and act in Lorne, CFA deputy incident controller Mark Gunning Gunning said the fire was still out-of-control and people needed to remain vigilant.
Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the blaze was intense though not large, and had been pushed along by strong winds.
It could continue burning until January or February because a dousing of rain on Saturday was unlikely to do much in the long term once the state began to dry out.
A massive operation involving more than 300 firefighters, 60 tankers and 18 aircraft spent yesterday afternoon and the ensuing night fighting the blaze.
Most residents of Lorne, Allenvale, North Lorne and Cumberland River evacuated their homes, with police officers doorknocking and urging residents to leave. Earlier, the nearby townships of Wye River, Separation Creek, Kennett River and Grey River were also evacuated. Thousands of people, many of whom were on holiday, had to ditch their Christmas plans.
Residents in Wye River, Separation Creek were hit hardest by the fires. Eighteen homes were lost in Separation Creek, with 35 destroyed in Wye River, though thankfully there were no reports of death or injury.
Emergency Management Victoria Incident Controller Peter West was quietly optimistic earlier this morning.
“At the moment things are looking a lot more promising than they did earlier yesterday afternoon.
“We just have to see how we go with the south-westerly change and how far the fire moves.”
Mr West said some light and patchy rain had started to fall and more was expected across the fire ground through Saturday, perhaps totalling 20 millimetres.
“The rain has been quite patchy through the morning, but it appears to be settling in a bit now,” Mr West said.
“It was a very hectic situation. Today we’ll have an opportunity to assess the damage,” he said. “It’s important that we do this properly and provide accurate advice.
“We’ve still got to remember that we’ve got a 2,000 hectare fire. We have to be patient in those areas that have been impacted and make sure it’s safe.”
The main firefront had not gone through Kennet River, but firefighters defending homes there had put out spot fires and no properties had been reported burnt.
The Red Cross has set up a register on its website for people directly affected by the fires to let their families know they are safe.
Local community meetings will be held later on Saturday at relief centres in Apollo Bay and Torquay.
Incident controller Mark Gunning said fire crews would be challenged by an expected wind change, which will push the fire in a north-easterly direction towards Lorne.
“If this fire impacts on Lorne, it is a huge risk,” he told AAP. “We’ve been very lucky with no fatalities or injuries reported today.” Victoria’s Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley said fire has surrounded the southern part of Wye River, burning several properties.
“There has been significant impact on properties in Separation Creek and Wye River ... and there is concern that the fire can come back again,” he told ABC radio on Friday.
Mr Lapsley said as the wind change pushes the blaze towards Lorne, there is a risk the town will be coated in smoke, which carries embers and debris.
“There will be an embers attack on Lorne,” he warned.
The onset of darkness posed problems overnight, with crews losing firebombing aircraft because of safety reasons. The fire would also look much closer in the dark, Mr Lapsley said, making for a “very scary sight”.
“The fire will stand out in the darkness and look like it’s right on top of you,” he told ABC.
Some residents that were leaving the town said it felt like “the calm before the storm”.
Christmas dinners and gifts were abandoned and families raced to the beach when emergency alerts came through.
“We’ve still got Christmas presents sitting under the tree — we’re hoping they’re still there when we get back,” said Patrick Hilditch, who fled his Kennett River holiday home with his wife and sons, told the Herald Sun.
“It’s scary not knowing if your house is burning.”
Separation Creek resident Tom Jacobs took shelter in the Apollo Bay evacuation centre.
“We were in the house just before lunch and we could see the smoke coming over the top of the hills,” he told the ABC.
“We had to make a decision to go to the beach as it was coming close. Standing on the beach, it was pretty intimidating seeing helicopters dumping water from the ocean onto the fires, trying to get it away from the house.”