community

Terrifying wake-up call

fire shot
By MICHELLE PINI, SCOTT PODMORE and KARLY HICKMAN

Published in Warrandyte Diary

THREE Warrandyte homes were destroyed and many others came perilously close to being lost in the worst fire to hit Warrandyte since 1969 on the weekend.

Thousands of residents either left town on Saturday or early Sunday after the CFA declared an Extreme fire danger day amid the worst fire conditions since Black Saturday. However, it ended up being a Black Sunday for three home owners in the Flannery Court fire which destroyed about 10 hectares, according to the Warrandyte CFA. 

In Glamis St, resident Brian Robertson’s house was the first to be razed. As winds fanned the flames further through the built-up residential area, two more properties in Amersham Drive were also burnt to a rubble.

More than 100 firefighters and two Helitack crews responded to the fire just after midday which took until late afternoon before it was safe for residents to return to town.

Detective senior constable Downes from Doncaster CIU said the bushfire was “not being treated as suspicious” but was still under investigation at the time the Diary went to print.

Sgt Stuart Henderson of Warrandyte police said residents reported hearing “what sounded like explosions” coming from the area.

“The CIU and the arson squad are investigating,” Sgt Henderson said. “Our early investigations showed that the path of the fire may have originated in the vicinity of the power lines, suggesting that the fire may have been caused by an electrical fault,” he explained, pointing out that was still to be determined.

Yesterday SP AusNet and Energy Victoria had representatives at the scene of the bushfire and detective senior constable Downes confirmed Energy Australia was conducting its own investigation into the cause of the fire.

Warrandyte CFA captain Adrian Mullens said despite such a terrible loss for those who lost properties, the rest of us “should consider ourselves very lucky”.

Mr Mullens praised the efforts of Manningham council: “I can’t say enough about the amazing support we received from Manningham council. We had two 4500-litre street flushers available, no questions asked – that’s invaluable.”

South Warrandyte CFA captain Greg Kennedy echoed those sentiments. “There were some phenomenal saves of property,” he said yesterday. “They really worked their arses off, those guys. We should be really proud of them.”

Brenda Ireland, who was asleep when the fire started, spoke with the Diary the day after losing her home. “We were lucky to get out,” Ms Ireland said. Her husband, Bob Barclay, was watching television and saw smoke. He went to investigate and discovered flames rushing towards their house in Flannery Court.

“He ran in and yelled, ‘Quick, we gotta go, the fire’s coming’,” Ms Ireland said. They drove off honking the car horn to alert neighbours as they sought refuge at the Pines Shopping Centre and waited, unaware that their home, as well as the one next door, would be completely gutted.

“Our next-door neighbour (who was also asleep) told us later that it was our car horn that woke her,” Ms Ireland said. “She managed to drive out with flames visible in the rear vision mirror.”

Captain Kennedy said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fire grow so quickly. The wind changed direction within about one minute at speeds of around 70km hour.”

Although there were devastating consequences for the owners of the three homes that were lost, it was a remarkable outcome for the Warrandyte community with no loss of life or injury in a fire that burned around 10 hectares.

Residents thanked the incredible work of the CFA who were able to contain the fire despite horrific weather conditions. Those sentiments were echoed all over social media and throughout the Warrandyte community.

The bushfire follows a close call in Kangaroo Ground only weeks earlier during one of the state’s worst heat waves. That fire took 150 emergency service representatives, four Helitack crews, two air observer aircraft and 10 tankers to bring the Koos Road bushfire in Kangaroo Ground under control, totaling in 12.6 hectares of burnt land.

“These incidents should act as an opportunity for people to assess and improve their fire plans,” former Nillumbik mayor and the Warrandyte Community Association’s Warwick Leeson said.

Yet obviously several residents remain oblivious to the risks. North Warrandyte CFA captain Rohan Thornton, who was part of a unit sent to fight fires in Gladysdale before the Warrandyte fire struck, said: “It’s clear that not everybody has got the message.”

Mr Thornton said he was “flabbergasted and astounded” to receive 95 text messages and calls from Warrandyte residents seeking advice on “what to do”.

“But operationally, the response was much better since 2009 because we managed to get 75 appliances to the fire front within an hour and a half.”

Be Ready Warrandyte also believes the incidents of the past month serve as a wake-up call to those Warrandyte residents without a comprehensive bushfire plan.

Two community meetings were held in North Warrandyte and Panton Hill last month to ensure residents were kept informed of the ongoing fire situation and potential risk and were well attended with over 200 concerned residents at each meeting.

Incident controller Bob Brinkman facilitated the meeting at North Warrandyte, which had representatives from CFA, Nillumbik Shire and Victoria Police also in attendance among a packed turnout. Fire prediction maps were displayed showing the fire had potential to impact the greater Warrandyte, Panton Hill and Christmas Hills area.

Despite many complex questions from the floor, the message was clear: enact your bushfire plan and leave early. With the Warrandyte township eerily quiet the next day, it is understood that many heeded the warning and left early. As they also did for Warrandyte bushfire on Sunday.

For the meeting held at St Anne’s Primary School on Sunday night, there were 350 in attendance.

“I encourage people to think about the consequences of not having a fire plan, including the loss of life and lives of loved ones,” Mr Leeson said.

After two major fires in the region already this bushfire season, Be Ready Warrandyte continues its work in raising the level of bushfire preparedness within the community. Its website Warrandyte.org.au/fire experienced unprecedented usage during the recent heatwave and the weekend bushfire.

Community social media pages and groups, including the Warrandyte Diary page, Warrandyte Secondhand Page, and Warrandyte Business and Community Network group, have also been a hive of activity as locals, and family and friends from afar, communicated regularly using the social media platform.

Following the Kangaroo Ground fire, a social media-inspired group calling themselves the “bridge ninjas”, who “lit up” the Warrandyte Bridge with solar-charged fairy lights at Christmas time, returned to the bridge this time to tie on red balloons and ribbons as a public display of support and appreciation to the CFA.

Police investigations continue into the cause of both bushfires in the past month.

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10 replies »

  1. I wonder how many more near catastrophes we need to survive before those all important Bushfires Royal Commission recommendations are carried out. Residents can only do so much. Even if every resident of greater Warrandyte manicured their properties to reduce fuel load, the electricity infrastructure we rely on will always be a ticking time bomb. Maybe pressure from the insurance industry will finally make governments act.

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    • Thanks for your comments – they are certainly food for thought. It is terrifying to think that lives, in this case in my backyard, literally depend on private corporations doing the right thing.

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      • Ugh, I didn’t realise you were that close. It was scary enough for me in North Warrandyte. 😦 And yes, where lives and fire are concerned, I’d like to know the technology isn’t to blame. This goes way beyond personal responsibility.

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  2. Hey there, thank you for the follow. I am also new to the blogging world so very unsure about my way around.
    The picture you put up on Warrandyte was so horrific as this is what I was seeing allround us.
    It really is a tragic time that I never had the courage to put pictures up besides one of an explosion that just set me off balance..
    Many blessings to you.

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    • Hi there,
      Thanks for your comments. I too was horrified and very emotional. The day after the fire, I interviewed people in the affected area including two who lost their homes – it was very confronting and emotional. However, in a strange way, I felt as if i was helping in a small way and it helped me deal with it all. Have you lived in Warrandyte long?

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      • Oh, I don’t live in Warrandyte., but watched it on the news.
        I was in the fires in Beveridge & Mickelham which were horrific.
        Just being able to assist where I could was consolation in some way.
        Keeping watch through the night and watching the hills glowing brighter was truly a site to see.
        Your article was great by the way.

        Like

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