Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eyewitness stories: Australia fires

Eyewitness stories: Australia fires

Scores of people have died in wildfires tearing across southern Australia. Eyewitnesses have been speaking to the BBC about their experiences.

Fires on hill
Police believe some of the fires were started deliberately
My house hasn't burned down. The section I'm in is OK. But 12 perished in my town including one of my son's friends and the wife of my husband's drinking buddy.

The smoke was scary. On the other side of the hill across the road we could see large puffs of smoke. My son and husband stayed here but they made me evacuate.

I only got back midnight last night when the police let me through. I shipped my daughter out to a friend's place.

Neighbours have come to my house and we are all taking comfort from each other. We're prepared for more. Three or four minutes up the road there was a fire earlier on today.

Any fire could become something big.

Last night the local pub was in darkness but people were huddled together. I gave a friend a hug, and then she whispered in my ear:

"I've lost everything."


It was unbelievable and it started for us on Saturday night when we were sitting at home in 47 degrees.

We were told we had five minutes to turn around and get out of here
We decided to go for a drive to Marysville but when we got down the road we were told that Marysville didn't exist anymore as it had burned down.

We were told we had five minutes to turn around and get out of here as soon as we could, as the fires were only kilometres behind us and coming this way.

We packed our stuff and drove to a shelter. We spent the first night in the car, the second in a caravan park.

I heard terrible stories at the shelter. Everything was in darkness and it was 38.5C at night. I believe our house is still standing but I am now with my daughter in Melbourne.

Our area is cordoned off because it is classed as a crime scene.

There are people stuck up there and my heart goes out to them. Fires are still flaring up there.

Surveying destroyed homes
Many people have lost their homes
I work in the emergency department as a nurse. It's been very busy. We've been treating firemen with burns, and sadly getting lots of dead on arrivals.

They're coming in thick and fast, and I think it will only get worse.

We are fine but a lot of people are struggling to get to work because the trees have fallen down, and roads are blocked.

We have been living here in Melbourne for a year now. We're about five miles from the fires, so we could see and smell the smoke.

We were swimming in a friend's pool when all of a sudden we felt this heat - it was so intense like someone had switched a hairdryer on. And then we saw this enormous orange cloud over us.

It's been devastating. So many people have been affected. You really have to see it to believe it.

It is just total ruin. Many have lost their lives, and homes, and many others will be scarred for life. People are just shocked and upset.


We live in a town called Frankston and I took pictures of fires that were deliberately lit.

Fortunately there was no loss of life in my town. But it came within 20 metres of houses. It was just streets away. Helicopters came and put them out.

People were very distraught. They were standing in the streets with garden hoses, standing on roofs, hosing down houses. Friends who live just a quarter of a mile away said it was raining fire in their backyard.

Streets have been blocked off by fire engines. When I got close to people's houses I saw that saw they had horrified looks on their faces.


We're alright now but I am very worried about the area. We're leaving the area now because what happens with the fire is unpredictable.

We're going to Melbourne. I have to be with my family even though it is fine at the moment.

We were under threat over the weekend but the wind has changed direction now.

People died in areas close by.


bill larkin
Bill Larkin feels he had a narrow escape
A lot depends on the wind at the moment. The wind has picked up and is blowing in the right direction for us at the moment.

Unless there is a serious change in weather we are going to be fine. If we had two days in a row of wind we would have been burnt out.

One of my daughters got back from school and reported that 30 other students had lost their homes. It's not a big school.

Two of my friends have lost their homes - we haven't been able to contact them. Tomorrow we are going to try to find out where they are.

The thing is, everyone pitches in to help; everyone offers accommodation. We're OK at the moment. If things stay the way they are we're alright. But it's burning only 10km away and we're surrounded by bush and gum trees.


Margaret Asti
I am pretty certain my house has gone - I have spoken to my neighbours and their house has gone.

They were trapped in the fire, but managed to escape. It was such a relief to hear their voices. They have told me they can only see charred remains where my house stood.

I've owned it for 20 years and have just recently moved back into it and renovated it. Everything I owned has gone. Driver's licence, birth certificate. Everything.

The fire came so quickly there was not time for everyone to evacuate.

The community is a very close one. People I know have lost parents and children, everything has been wiped out. I feel devastated, numb and traumatised. I also feel I was one of the lucky ones; by chance my family and I weren't at home when the fire came.

I was at my sister's house in Eltham and my two sons, who are four and 21, were with me.

I was on my way home to Kinglake when police closed the road due to the approaching fire. There had been no sign there was a fire close by - the nearest was 80km away across the mountain, but it was moving so fast it managed to travel that distance in 30 minutes.

I am pretty certain my house has gone - I have spoken to my neighbours and their house has gone.
The police closed the road, but we couldn't go back the way we came as the wind was blowing the embers off the mountain and down the valley, so spots of fires were happening everywhere which meant the road back to my sister's house also became blocked by fire.

We were taken to the local relief centre. Thousands of people were already there. Although they had almost no warning the relief centre was well prepared with tea and sandwiches. I had to wait there with my children for four hours. All the time we knew that the mountain all around us was on fire.

When we left the relief centre, we had a police escort. The fence posts on either side of the road we were travelling on were on fire. We drove back just praying for everyone at Kinglake.

The fire came so quickly there was not time for everyone to evacuate, which is why people died on the roads, in their cars and in their houses.

On the television, lots of contact numbers are given out all day for people to call, but there are so many people affected it's almost impossible to get through on the phone, so I had to drive to my local area's relief centre to register and to let them know I was safe. I was given a relief cheque for A$1,000.


We found [our neighbour but one] pretty much still smouldering two doors up. We pulled him out and got him back to my house.

I've got a swimming pool and we put him in the pool. He's got up to 50% burns, I believe, on his body.

We had to basically keep him alive for six hours and that was the most traumatic thing that I think we've had to do
We had no help. For six hours we had no assistance here at all. No fire engines, no ambulances, no helicopters, so we had to basically keep him alive for six hours and that was the most traumatic thing that I think we've had to do - or I think I'll ever have to do. It's probably going to haunt me forever.

I believe Mike is doing well in hospital so we haven't lost him.

There are spot fires that we're still putting out, trees that are burning things like that, but it's quite safe here at the moment, thank God. We've managed to get a little bit of rest in the last couple of days.

My house is one out of eight in my street that is saved. I've got four families with me at the moment in my house and we've got kids in the house so we're going to stay put. We certainly won't be leaving now.

The only thing we need at the moment is just a generator to get us some power and get us up and running, get the lights and get fridges back on.

We'll definitely be staying. I know probably 20 people who have lost their houses, and I haven't ventured out from my place very far at all.


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