Gembrook fire: a resident’s perspective

Gembrook resident Paul Fry sent a letter of appreciation to CFA chief officer Steve Warrington recently, following the Bunyip State Park bushfires.

CFA firefighters were on the frontline of the fires in Bunyip in early March.

About 2000 firefighters were deployed to fight the blaze which burnt 100,000 hectares in the state’s east.

Gembrook resident Paul Fry sent a letter of appreciation to CFA chief officer Steve Warrington recently.

The letter not only thanks the efforts of CFA personnel, but provides a fascinating insight into the fire from a resident’s perspective.

Dear Steve,

I wanted to share my appreciation with you for what all the relevant groups did for our area in the recent Bunyip fires.

A fire damage concept map of our property and neighbouring properties is below.

The fire began on the mountain range in front of our property and was swept down the East boundary of our neighbour’s property by the northerly wind. At one point the wind, which was pushing the fire away from us, died down and the wall of flames that rose up was so large and long it seemed inconceivable that any of the folks homes on the other side of the flames could be saved, especially given the dense forest surrounding most of the dwellings. The best description I can think of for what was in front of us is simply apocalyptic.

Even with four years of preparation, an air tight fire bunker, two fire hoses, 10,000 litres of water, a specialised pump and diesel generator we fled when we could, which was early Saturday night. As we were leaving with our children we let four very brave souls know that we were going [as they] continued to station themselves on our street corner to defend our [house] and neighbouring properties.

The irony of us, the owners fleeing and strangers staying back to defend our home and animals, is a humbling image that I will never forget. It doesn’t matter whether they were volunteers or paid career fire fighters because no amount of money would entice the average person to work in such peril.

There were definitely times we would have loved the helicopters and ground crews to stay the course around our area, but it was clear with our view, they were needed more elsewhere. That being said, they did magically reappear just before the sh*t hit the fan on a number of occasions.

After the extreme danger passed I was so impressed to see again the various groups, CFA, forest management and rangers etc taking great care to keep properties safe, keep domestic animals fed and watered as well as taking the time to keep us informed.

I know the system you all work under is not perfect and that your work environment is unpredictable and deadly, which makes me respect all the staff even more for continuing to place their lives in danger for the sake of others.

In an area like ours, even with the best preparation, equipment and tightest management, there was going to be costly damage to some homes and loss of much loved pets and livestock. We thought on a number of occasions we would be joining the number of grieving for their loss because the odds were so great. The fire was apocalyptic in size, was pushed along and directed by an indiscriminate wind that knew no boundaries through surrounds that were tinder dry and encircle many of our homes.

I watched this crisis unfold for 24 hours from our property on top of a small range and have heard the first-hand accounts of what happened after my family and I had evacuated. The unflinching courage I saw, tireless effort, warmth, care and compassion in 99 percent of all personnel is enough to restore my wider faith in people.

Thank you for making a difference.

Paul Fry

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