As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invitation was extended to the wider Esperance community calling for personal accounts and recollections of the November 2015 Bushfires. The response was nothing short of overwhelmingly positive. Research indicates that sharing your story is a critical part of the personal recovery process, and contributes to Community healing and recovery. The Shire of Esperance received a total of around 30 contributions. These are their stories...
front cover: Morcombeâ€™s Family Property Scaddan, Western Australia 3 years post-fire Cover Photographer: Adam Clark
Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore A collaborative community memoir by those affected by the Esperance bushfires in November 2015.
Proudly supported by: Shire of Esperance, Lotterywest and Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore
Published by the Shire of Esperance PO Box 507, Windich Street Esperance WA 6450 www.esperance.wa.gov.au ISBN: 978-0-646-98489-6
Copyright in this collection and the Introduction and Foreword (c) Shire of Esperance Copyright (c) individual stories, contributions and poems remains with the authors. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner or the above publisher of this book. Any content, views, opinions and/or testimony and statements submitted by contributors of the Our Bushfire Recovery Story are solely the views, opinions and responsibility of the person submitting them and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of the Shire of Esperance or Lotterywest.
Merivale, Western Australia 1 year post-fire
pg 02 | IMAGE: JAIMEN HUDSON
image: JAIMEN HUDSON | pg 03
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Publication Design: Wayward Nation Cover Image: Adam Clark Printed & bound by Scott Print Thank you to Lotterywest and the Shire of Esperance for the financial support of this project. Stories submitted by Natalie Bowman, Ian Hartley, Blake Halford, Allan Sharpe, Lucy Gardiner, Karen Naylor, Will Carmody, Lyndel Taylor, Natahna Stone, Scaddan Primary School, Terry Dunn, Rhonda Morcombe, Mick Liebeck, David Mills, Geoff Close, Victoria Brown, Kate Warner, Graham Gath, Dirk & Lena Keizer. Thank you to Corrina Ridgway of Seeker Images for her compassion & understanding when helping gather and collate the stories being told. A special thank you to Kate Dansey & Christiane Smith of Wayward Nation for their unwavering support & commitment to this project. Thank you to Jaimen Hudson for supplying drone imagery of the affected / rejuvenated sites. Thank you to Adam Clark for his generous donation of imagery throughout the book and for the time spent achieving the perfect front page image. Thank you to Shire of Esperance staff for the time spent proof reading the book. A special mention to Amelia Fitzgerald for her dedication & unrelenting drive to see this book come to fruition.
pg 04 | ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
image: blake halford | pg 05
pg 06 | image: jaimen hudson LOCATION: merivale
CONTENTS 04 | ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
82 | THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS
08 | FOREWORD
84 | NATAHNA STONE, SCADDAN
11 | PREFACE
86 | SCADDAN PRIMARY SCHOOL
14 | KYM “FREDDY” CURNOW
90 | SCADDAN PRIMARY SCHOOL CLEAN UP
15 | ANNA WINTHER
92 | RHONDA MORCOMBE, SCADDAN
15 | JULIA KOHRS-LICHTE
94 | SHORTY MORCOMBE, SCADDAN
16 | THOMAS LESLIE BUTCHER
98 | MICK LEIBECK, SCADDAN
21 | TIMELINE OF EVENTS
106 | DAVID MILLS
22 | MAPS: FIRE SCAR COMPARISON
114 | GEOFF CLOSE
25 | FIREMAN’S PRAYER
118 | VICTORIA BROWN
26 | THROUGH THE FARMING DEPUTY’S EYES – NATALIE BOWMAN
124 | KATE WARNER
32 | IAN HARTLEY’S STORY
128 | GRAHAM GATH
48 | BLAKE HALFORD
133 | TOM BROWN
56 | A FIREY’S SNAP SHOT – SHARPE’S STORY
138 | ANONYMOUS
63 | LUCY GARDINER, POEM
140 | SOMEONE UP THERE LOOKS AFTER ME! – DIRK & LENA KEIZA
64 | KAREN NAYLOR
142 | ANONYMOUS
66 | A STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRES – WILL CARMODY
144 | KALIMA TREE PLANTATION, MERIVALE: JAIMEN HUDSON 146 | TRIBUTE TO FREDDY – LUCKY BAY BREWING
image: jake meadley | pg 07
FOREWORD Mrs Victoria Brown, Shire of Esperance President (2015 - Present)
In the space of a week the bushfires burnt out over 300,000 hectares of land and left our community reeling. We have always been a resilient lot, being somewhat geographically isolated in the south east of WA some 700 kilometres from Perth. That
while the fires continued to burn and threaten our town and farmland, tested our mettle to the nth degree Tuesday 17th November 2015 will be indelibly etched
but this amazing community rose to the challenge and
into the lives of our community and those that suffered
came together to begin the journey of recovery.
the tragedy of the dreadful bush fires that claimed four lives and left our community, and in particular the families
This book tells some of the stories of people who lived
and friends of Freddy, Tom, Anna and Julia, devastated
through the Esperance Bushfires of November 2015.
in the aftermath.
Here you will find extraordinary tales and accounts of what happened, told through different sets of eyes, by
It was also the start of our community rising up together
people who had an eclectic mix of roles during the events
to show the powerful force of camaraderie, solidarity and
as they unfolded. People have shared their stories in the
support in times of desperate need.
hope that we gain some insight into how individuals were affected by the fires.
The second week of November 2015 brought with it some of the toughest fire conditions ever seen in Western
Here are tales of bravery, generosity, compassion,
Australia with gale force winds and temperatures soaring
resilience and resolve, told by ordinary people who are
into the mid-40s, creating what the Department of Fire and
actually extraordinary individuals. Read on and be a
Emergency Services later described as â€˜unprecedentedâ€™
part of our incredible story and the challenges we faced
on our road to recovery.
pg 08 | FOREWORD: VICTORIA BROWN
image: jAIMEN HUDSON LOCATION: GUM PLANTATION, MERIVALE | pg 09
pg 10 | image: adam clark LOCATION: scaddan
PREFACE Written by Natalie Bowman, Deputy Shire President Chair, Community Support Subcommittee
The disastrous fires in November 2015 have not only
The care factor that came from within our community and
and everything they needed or wished for simply arrived’.
changed our landscape and our lives, but also an entire
the wider Western Australian community was something I
As time goes on, we do not forget, but we do reflect.
have never experienced before.
We look back and remember the feelings on the day
The effects were far reaching and long
and in the days that followed.
lasting, but not all of them were negative. Out of disaster
We share our stories
came strength, support, resilience and generosity that
What we had happening here was something special, and
of challenges and achievements.
We remember the
even gives me goose bumps and amazes me.
it was probably something that we didn’t even realise was
greatness that came from helping each other and we
unusual until it was pointed out to us by outside groups
continue to work together to improve our processes so
As Chair of the Community Support Subcommittee,
with experience in disaster recovery. Our community’s
that we may never have to share an experience such as
I experienced firsthand the incredible power of a
recovery was driven by our community coming together
this disaster again.
community working together. Much of what happened
providing for and supporting each other in so many ways. I am incredibly proud to be a member of this amazing
during those first few weeks of recovery touched every single person in our wide community in one way or
The process itself provided a recovery path for those
community and a part of the team that helped to ensure
another, either by physically supporting those farmers on
who were not personally physically affected, but still
that our community continues to thrive and grow stronger.
the ground with repair works, making and baking goods
emotionally affected, by providing a means that they
I am sure that as you read through this book you will also
to keep the recovery troupes fed, or by supporting the
could help and feel useful. Blaze aid summed it up with
share in the pride and passion that comes from being
incredible Blaze Aid with goods and equipment to keep
their sentiments about ‘this being the best community
part of a community that stands together when the going
them going as they worked with the farmers.
they have ever worked in, nothing was too big or too hard
image: ADAM CLARK LOCATION: SCADDAN, 2 YEARS LATER | pg 11
We respectfully acknowledge the tragic lives lost during Esperanceâ€™s November bushfires, 2015.
pg 12 | image: adam clark LOCATION: fisheries rd / myrup airstrip
image: adam clark | pg 13
KYM â€œFREDDYâ€? CURNOW
Funny Freddy He was the uncle I knew best,
Freddy found fun ways to muck around, Whether it was at the farm or at the Gibson football ground, Freddy found funny funnier nicknames then funny nicknames, Freddy your smile was the most finest smile, Freddy your funny jokes were the funniest out of them all, Farmed with his sons, finest crops you will ever see, Freddy played 250 games for the Gibson football club what a legend he was, Freddy knocked on every door mate to mate he helped them for sure, Played with his sons Tom and Riley he was a show off but always did it fun, He was my favourite uncle out of them, because he was the funniest out of them all.
pg 14 | kym curnow
- From Olivia
anna winther & julia kohrs-lichte | pg 15
THOMAS LESLIE BUTCHER Thomas Leslie Butcher (Tom to all who knew him) died in
gently helping us along. The condolence book was
Thank you Vicky and Griff for your friendship and
the fire, along with his two colleagues Anna Sushchova
a beautiful and much treasured tribute to Tom. Cakes
kindness, to Linda and Dave, the police and fire service,
Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte. He had taken his friend’s
and biscuits were made by families we will never meet,
thank you for all your work.
horse away from the approaching fire and was trying to
all with labels written with love. For those thoughts and
get to the safety of Esperance. Sadly as we all know,
kind words we are so grateful. Vicky and Griff welcomed
I can’t say that I have begun to recover yet, but your
they didn’t make it. Only a few hundred yards away Kym
us into their home and nurtured us daily with food and
Curnow also perished.
compassion. Strangers who now became friends.
We took time to experience your beautiful beaches,
where Tom had spent so many happy hours and Tom was my pride and joy. A young man so full of life,
Victoria Brown led the scattering of Toms ashes service
saw the beauty there. When we got back to Perth
with so many plans and dreams waiting to be fulfilled.
on the beach, the church and local community provided
before heading home, we opened Tom’s Guitar case.
He was 31 years old and lived life to the fullest. A diesel
food, drink and love for the wake afterwards. Thank you
mechanic of such excellence, nothing much beat him.
to all involved. You lifted our hearts when they were so
He left the love of his life Jess Wilson to pursue adventure
and a better life in Australia. A decision which often tore at his heart. He didn’t find that special person to love
November 2016. A year has passed since I last saw my
in Esperance, but what he did find was a horse named
boy. I returned with my daughters Jessica and Megan,
Cougar and the freedom and lifestyle he yearned.
Granddaughters Lilly and Annabelle, son in law Terry and Tom’s friends Tobi and Dave. We were there to remember
When he called home he would always say ‘I’m living the
the lives lost and to unveil the memorial stone dedicated
dream’. I often told him how proud I was of the man that
to Tom. Linda and Dave Campbell worked tirelessly to
he had become and how much I loved him. I didn’t feel
organise the stones and the beautiful bronze plaques.
like I was living the dream when I arrived in Esperance
The sculpturer did an amazing job. It made me so proud
last December with my family. Living a nightmare was
that my son’s life and death were commemorated in
more to the point. The burnt scarred land and the burnt
such a way. The people of Scaddan and Esperance
out wreckage was too much to bear. The beauty of the
again opened their hearts, arms and homes to us. Thank
place was of no consequence and my heart was so
you to all involved in the memorial day. Thank you to all
heavy. The community of Esperance and Scaddan were
the wonderful people who stood for a minutes silence to
there with their arms opened wide, feeling our pain and
remember the lives lost 12 months before.
pg 16 | THOMAS LESLIE BUTCHER
On the guitar he had written:
Never underestimate the power of nature. What will be will be.
- by Sharon Butcher (Tom Butcher’s Mother)
THOMAS LESLIE BUTCHER | pg 17
pg 18 | image: jAIMEN HUDSON LOCATION: MERIVALE
image: jAIMEN HUDSON LOCATION: MERIVALE | pg 19
pg 20 | image: adam clark
image: adam clark | pg 21
pg 22 | FIRE SCAR COMPARISON
FIRE SCAR COMPARISON | pg 23
WE HAVE THE MOST AMAZING COMMUNITY! I AM STILL IN COMPLETE AWE AT HOW QUICKLY THE COMMUNITY CAME TOGETHER AND RALLIED TO HELP WHERE THEY COULD... IF EVER THERE WAS ANYTHING THAT WAS NEEDED, THE CALL WAS PUT OUT AND SHORTLY AFTER, IT ARRIVED.
pg 24 | IMAGE: BLAKE HALFORD
IMAGE: BLAKE HALFORD | pg 25
through the farming deputy’s eyes Natalie Bowman, Deputy Shire President (2015 - Present)
Tuesday 17th November 2015 started out as many other
we needed to make. During harvest, where I was
lives, but who, during an emergency, stepped up to form
Tuesdays have for me, with the usual 8am start at the
surrounded by a busy staff, mostly of men, the drive
a team tasked with roles and responsibilities to deal with
Shire of Esperance, in a meeting with the Shire President
was my sanctuary, my peace and quiet, where I took the
the situation at hand.
and the CEO. In my position as Deputy Shire President,
time to enjoy the trip and relax. This Tuesday was one of
we started each Tuesday with a meeting to discuss the
those drives, watching headers busily working early, and
Being fully involved in this new role and having only been
Council agenda that month and any other issues that
enjoying a sing along with the radio.
in the Deputy position for 4 weeks prior to this day, I was
very focussed on gathering information and participating We had a full day of meetings and it wasn’t until lunchtime
to provide local knowledge where I could.
I still had
As I left the farm at Grass Patch at 6.45am for the 1 hour
that I stepped outside to realise the full extent of the
not really placed the location of the fire in my head,
drive into Esperance, I knew that it was going to be a
weather. It was an oppressive heat, one that surrounded
concentrating only on what I needed to do to help keep
hot and windy day. You could feel it in the air and the
you completely and that wind, something I have never
blowflies were already lining up on the verandah walls,
experienced before. We have had windy hot days, but
signalling the heat that would come. We knew there was
this day had a different feeling to it – it was eerie and
On the wall of the room was a map showing where the fire
a fire in the North in the bush, but that wasn’t unusual,
made us all fall silent as we felt the intensity of the heat
front was and this was being kept up to date minute by
they are often out there, started by lightning.
coupled with the power of the wind.
minute, with someone coming from the communications room next door with the most up to date information and
We also knew that there would be a harvest ban called
Still nothing untoward crossed my mind, knowing that
transferring it to the map. I remember being continually
early that day due to the weather, so the blokes were
there was a harvest ban in place and my husband and
shocked at how quickly that red fire front line was being
already heading to the paddocks to get as much harvest
staff were probably at home under the air conditioning.
them to stop. I checked the dog and cocky had plenty
As the council agenda briefing ended, we were made
It was at the end of one of these updates, as the room
of fresh water and jumped into the car without another
aware that there was an issue with the fire in the north
emptied out a little, that I was able to take a closer look at
thought, never thinking that it might be some days before
and the Shire President and myself were asked to head
the map and then realised, with a sinking feeling, that our
I would be able to return.
to the Incident Control Centre for a briefing. It was there
own farm, my home, my family, friends and neighbours
that I began to understand the full extent of the fire issue
were indeed being gobbled up by that rapidly moving
I often used my hour drive to morph from Farmer to
and the risk to my family, friends and neighbours at
line. At that time all I really wanted to do was grab hold
Deputy, switching from thinking about farming, food and
home. The room was filled with Incident Management
of someone who knew the details and focus them on my
staff to thinking about the town issues and the decisions
team members, people like me who had other roles and
farm and find out what was going on out there and what
in as they could before the heat and wind arrived, forcing
pg 26 | NATALIE BOWMAN
it meant for me. Of course, in my position as Deputy, my
needed to evacuate earlier than first planned whilst the
last conversation that we would have for a couple of
role is not to look out for myself but for the community as
weather was favourable. Dressed again in the one and
days. Back in Esperance and the day was filled with
a whole, so I gathered myself and got on with assisting
only dress that I had with me, I couldn’t help but wonder
media meetings, community briefings and answering the
with the job of passing on the evacuation order to
if the idea of a friendly face on my neighbours’ doorsteps
phone. Oh that phone!
everyone that I could in the area and get them to head to
at 4am in the morning was actually a good thing!
Salmon Gums to safety as directed.
By midmorning it was apparent to us that we were not I spent most of the trip calling confused neighbours along
going to be able to handle the incoming calls which were
The next few hours passed in a blur and I didn’t actually
the way and letting them know that following the bus or
coming from media outlets across the country, some
get time to contact my husband, Leon, until later
being on the bus was their safest way to get to town and
even from the other side of the world. So we handed over
that evening to find out that we did in fact still have a
wait for the fire to be controlled and the area declared
our phones and staff scheduled interviews. It became
home, that we had sustained some fire damage on our
safe to return to. Many took the opportunity and joined
my job to do the radio interviews whilst Victoria, (the
properties and were still under threat, but were hopeful of
the convoy back into town that Wednesday morning. My
Shire President), handled the meetings and television
first glimpse of the fire damage was from the bus window
in the dawn light and I remember being surprised at the As the night wore on and more details of the fire and it’s
whiteness of the land. I had expected blackness, but
Victoria and I spent the next couple of days together
destructive path came to light, the enormity of what was
it looked more like a snowstorm rather than blackened
providing each other support and helping our community
happening out there in my home territory felt quite surreal.
earth. I am still not sure if the fire left white ash or if the
work together through this mess. I have complete
It was impossible to imagine that a fire could spread as
wind had blown away the blackened ash.
admiration for Victoria and the job she did.
of lives also began to filter through to those of us who
Early that Wednesday morning it was with great relief
We were both new to these roles and it certainly was
were still in the control centre into the midnight hours.
that I was able to briefly meet and hug my husband at
a fast and steep learning curve. She brought calm,
quickly and as fiercely as it did. News of the tragic loss
Grass Patch as he had come in to deliver one of our
confidence and valuable information to every public
I finally retired back to our house in Esperance a little
youngest staff members to the bus to return to Esperance
meeting which was exactly what was needed at the
after midnight with instructions to be on an early bus to
and be reunited with her family. He looked very tired but
time. We have the most amazing community! I am still
Grass Patch and Salmon Gums at 7am in the morning
determined as he explained that we were ok, but had
in complete awe at how quickly the community came
to help evacuate the communities back into Esperance.
plenty of work still to do in the face of wind changes
together and rallied to help where they could. If ever there
A 2am phone call saw me on the bus at 4am and on
and fire still burning in many areas threatening farms and
was anything that was needed, the call was put out and
the way north as a weather change indicated that we
properties. At that time I didn’t realise that it would be the
shortly after, it arrived. Teams of helpers streamed into the
NATALIE BOWMAN | pg 27
through the farming deputyâ€™s eyes - cont. Natalie Bowman, Deputy Shire President (2015 - Present)
Evacuation Centre and worked tirelessly to make sure
call, but at that time I would have done just about
to and I was able to head home for the first time since
that everyone had what they needed. The staff at the
anything to know that all was well at home. Word came
Tuesday. Incredibly relieved to be heading home and
Shire often worked all day and then volunteered through
back that Leon was alive and well and on the back of a
putting on my farmerâ€™s hat for a while. The strong desire
the nights to get the job done.
firetruck. Leon tells me he took a bit of a bagging over
to be at home with my family and to cook and make
the welfare radio check but for my peace of mind it was
sure they were looked after soon changed to a sense of
The lack of communication with the fire affected areas made life very tough. During the day whilst I was busy with my Deputy role, I had little time to think about home and family and how they were doing, but at night it was tough. Trying to sleep, alone in Esperance, wondering how our staff were going, who was feeding them and looking after them. Worried about my husband and if he was looking after himself. The next couple of days felt like a lifetime and when I look
guilt at being home when there was still so much to be
definitely worth it.
done in the community to help with recovery. After just 24
Finally, late on Thursday night, the long awaited phone call came from Leon.
Mobile phones were suddenly
working again and we were able to talk. Relief turned to concern almost immediately as we realised that neither of us were able to account for the whereabouts of one of our staff.
I was starting to see relieved comments on Facebook from worried wives who had finally managed to make contact with their husbands, but still no word from mine. The mind plays tricks on you and as much as you tell yourself it will all be fine â€“ doubt creeps in at night when you are alone and meant to be sleeping. By Thursday lunchtime it was starting to get the better of me
the farmer again and I returned to Esperance to continue working on recovery. Over the next few weeks the recovery efforts continued as we gathered and coordinated support for the affected families and their properties. Once again I am completely
back now I am sure it was longer than 48 hours without contact.
hours at home my sense of Deputy duty took over from
overwhelmed with the support that came pouring in from I had presumed he was on the farm; Leon presumed
around the state. Certainly in the face of adversity we
he had evacuated to Esperance or Norseman and
find our strength and the kindness and generosity shown
neither of us had seen or heard from him since Tuesday
by others is incredible. Most amazing is the resilience of
morning. Very early on Friday morning we were finally
those affected and how they looked after each other in
able to locate him and discovered that he had suffered
the ensuing months.
a life threatening medical emergency sometime between Tuesday evening and Friday in his home.
In the days following the fire, and as the chair of the
he has now recovered and we consider it incredibly
community support committee, I took a phone call from
lucky that the mobile phone service came back and we
the coordinator of Blaze Aid, a volunteer group who visit
located him when we did.
to provide assistance to communities in recovery. I had
and I asked Victoria to use her Fire Chief contacts (her
never heard of Blaze Aid or had any idea what they did.
husband!) to do a radio welfare check on my husband.
With Friday afternoon came some much appreciated
Tom Brown tells me I owe him one for making the radio
Their founder, Kevin Butler described it to me as a few
rain and the declaration that the area was safe to return
volunteers who would turn up to help rebuild fences.
pg 28 | NATALIE BOWMAN
They just needed somewhere to park a few caravans! Seemed simple enough. Over the next 116 days, 164 volunteers arrived and cleared 917km of fencing. Many of us have much more to thank Blaze Aid for than just fencing â€“ they were mending lives and families as they went about their fencing. They also found something special in our wonderful community â€“ they received greater assistance and generosity here than they have ever seen in Blaze aid camps before. Something we should all be very proud of. Throughout this whole ordeal I felt torn between needing to be at home, providing the critical support for my family, staff and local community and being in Esperance as the Deputy providing wider community recovery support. I will always be grateful for the tremendous support I received during this challenging time from family, friends, neighbours and Shire Staff. Adversity often brings out the best in people, and in this instance it certainly did.
We are a strong, proud
and resilient community who have fought natureâ€™s fury together. We have all learned from this experience and will all be changed in some ways.
IMAGE: ADAM CLARK | pg 29
pg 30 | IMAGE: adam clark location: cnr cox & truslove rd
IMAGE: blake halford | pg 31
IAN HARTLEY’S STORY Quarry Road Bushfire Brigade Esperance Fire & Rescue Brigade
My association with Esperance Fire Brigades started in
“Nah all good just thickening up some edges.” Not the
March of 2000 when we purchased a small block out on
It was a warm Sunday morning when I went to work, there
reply she wanted.
Quarry Road. I went along to the Quarry Road fire shed
was talk of afternoon storms but I was on my way to
“It’s a catastrophic day, does John know?”
for the AGM and came away as First Aid Officer. I then
Kalgoorlie driving an empty iron ore train, so I sent a text
I rang John back and we had a chat, it was going to
joined the Esperance Fire and Rescue brigade in 2001.
message to our president, John, letting him know I was
be explained at the briefing in the morning but with the
out of town and there was water at my shed if needed.
breaks in we all thought that it wouldn’t be a problem.
It’s strange how questions asked by children are done in
I guess like most fires I knew these would be out by the
I kept packing as I was off for a few days on RTOs and
such a disarming manner, that they can truly rock you to
time I got home if any started. I was sadly mistaken.
then a weeks holiday to take the junior Fire brigade team
your core. I was away at the end of February 2016, for
to Perth for the WA State championships the following
the Victorian State Junior Fire Brigade Championships
with the Esperance junior fire brigade running team. A
We arrived back in Esperance around 4:00 pm. We had
great bunch of kids and parents made the trip across
tea and I was checking my emails. It was late - around
the Nullarbor Plain to the other side of the island. We
8:30pm I suppose, when John called and asked if I
Out at the fire shed in the morning I was crewing Quarry
were all sitting outside on a beautiful warm night when an
could man an appliance in the morning (Tuesday). They
Road 2.4, with John as crew leader, Andy and I as crew.
innocent question was asked. I did answer it eventually
had been out for two days and he wanted to spell crew
It started off as normal - hurry up and wait.
and then being a man, I stood up and walked out into the
and give us all a turn on the trucks.
darkness, as I didn’t want to show any emotion.
Before checking with Fiona the answer was, “Yep, what
Just past the turn off to Oak Marsh Farms we turned into
time on station mate?” His reply was “Seven am, we
the right, down the fence line and out into the Station
I cried under a perfect lonely starry sky, then walked
are just thickening up the west side to protect town as a
Lake reserve. The orders were given to ‘Black out 30
back, hugged my son and went to bed. I guess I should
break is going in on the eastern side. When that’s done
metres and take out unburnt pockets.’ Everything was
have known, but that night for me confirmed it, I was in for
we’ll light it all up, should be all good by tea tomorrow
going well but we could see the fire activity picking up to
a bit of a bad time in the coming months.
night.” Famous last words.
our south east. About 11:30 John called us back to the truck. We were going down to Tom on Annie’s Lane.
The Esperance fires of November 2015 were some of
I started to check over my gear, spare batteries, gloves,
the heaviest fire activity that had been witnessed in
mask filters, Camelbac and hydration tablets; it was then
As we turned up I noticed a large number of trucks and
the Esperance Shire district or even that of the state of
that Fiona walked in and asked, “What’s happening?”
gear working in all different directions trying to form a
Western Australia. These are my recollections of the
I told her and she responded with, “Have you seen the
containment line. We followed Tom and Todd in and
events of November 2015, some truly tragic, some funny.
weather for tomorrow?”
were given the task to be protection for a grader that was
pg 32 | ian hartley
going to put breaks around some of the infrastructure down the end of Annie’s Lane. It was a limestone road that offered good open grass paddocks to the eastern side, safe enough to defend ourselves and any gear that was with us. Todd and Tom went in for a look and then the grader went across a creek crossing and bottomed out. No panic. This happens more than we care to comment on, a loader came back to help him out and we went to the buildings for a look before deciding that with all the leaf litter and trees around the buildings it would be very hard to defend. Tom and Todd then came back as it was starting to get very hot in the dunes. We needed a fall back line. We all pulled back to a paddock near the sheds, Tom tasked a grader to run down one of the fence lines to the creek and then we could do the same off Stockyards. This would give us a good fall-back line if we couldn’t hold it on the open paddocks. I walked down about 150 meters from the trucks to look up a valley between the dunes. John radioed to say when ‘the fire was close let me know,’ as Tom would pull the grader and themselves out back to the paddock. It was at this time a comment was made over the radio that the smoke was changing directions. It took on a big swirl pattern and was just starting to come back over the top of us. The fire was slowly making its way up the dunes and then trickling down the other side.
IMAGE: ian hartley | pg 33
IAN HARTLEY’S STORY - CONT. Quarry Road Bushfire Brigade Esperance Fire & Rescue Brigade
This changed within a few breaths. “John copy, the fire
he hadn’t heard it correctly. Some of the comments that
John pointed the truck up the hill ready to follow, we were
front is standing up,” was my call to John and I don’t
were muttered around our truck you couldn’t put on
in the correct formation, heavy unit behind the machine,
know what was said on the other channel, but I was
paper. This was going pear shaped very quickly. They
sector commander sitting back giving directions from a
ordered back to the truck for protection of the grader.
needed crews out at Cascade.
high spot to see where the machine was tracking to and keeping him on course.
It was hectic for about half an hour, fire just erupting
Crews started checking over their trucks and gearing up
alongside of you when you’re standing on the ground
to travel out to the west of Esperance. Peter and his crew
storing stuff on the truck, people yelling to get out. John
from Condy came past on their 4.4 needing some foam.
opened the door and said we would stay with Tom and
I asked John and we gave them a couple of spare drums
From our vantage point you could see the flames starting
Todd and be the last truck out of the paddock, having
off our truck with a quick word of be careful, then they
to see-saw, stand up, lay down, stand up and then lay
more water and a bigger pump. Plus, the grass was
over the other way. Then, between the chatter on the
better than being in four-metre-high wattle. Andy and
Then the wind change hit.
radio from Tom and Murray, the words we all fear; “F$#K
I both heartily agreed. We drove to Annie’s Lane and
I’m not sure of the time at this stage, but it was assumed
IT, Tom I’m bogged! Going to need that D8 back here to
Stockyards Road intersection, passing the dozers
that the main fire had done its run, and crews were split
pull me out with a chain.” John advised that we better get
and the trucks tasked to protect them, to regroup and
up, some down to Stockyards Road to help mop-up,
ready to run hose. We started to guide him as he needed
reassess the situation.
others down Annie’s Lane. Tom took our 2.4 and the light
to do a three point turn so the back of the truck was at
tanker. We were going to run a break across the north-
We simply had to wait, with machines all parked up,
eastern edge, back around Bannitup Lake to the other
crews wanting to go down Stockyards Road to help but
fire scar, to have a safe containment line for a back burn
Todd ran past us and up the dune. “F$#k this I’m out
the fire had gone across, cutting of our access. We were
around the lakes. We all concurred it was a good plan. It’s
of here,” came the call from the stricken dozer - that
sitting in the shade of the trucks having some down time,
times like this that you truly appreciate the experienced
was Murray’s last words over the UHF in that machine.
drinks, yarning to different brigades.
machine operators for their skill and judgement. Murray
Andy continued to guide John while I followed Todd up
picked his line and we headed around the edge of the
the dune. A green tunic arm came into view and Todd
I was sitting in the cab listening to the command channel
fire scar up to the top of the dune and then he dropped
grabbed it, helping Murray over the top just as the wind
and heard control give Will at Cascade a weather
out of sight down into the valley. The swamp was further
hit. Then a heartbeat behind that, the heat hit us. It was
update. “Wind change to out of the northwest gusting to
over to the east but the ground was very soft. “Just wait
something else - and we were on the protected side of
100 kilometres an hour.” There was a good 15 second
there till I push a bit of a flat area in and a turnaround
the dune. Tom had been calling Murray over the radio ‘to
pause before Will asked them to repeat it as he thought
point will ya!” was the call over the UHF from Murray.
get his arse over here,’ he was now telling us all in the
pg 34 | ian hartley
IMAGE: ian hartley | pg 35
IAN HARTLEY’S STORY - CONT. Quarry Road Bushfire Brigade Esperance Fire & Rescue Brigade
same terms to get back out onto the burnt ground. Which
desperately to light a smoke, but shaking that badly he
the flames flattened out horizontally reaching to the
I will say we didn’t need much encouragement to do in
had to hold the lighter on the headboard of the truck,
other side. We made it down to about 400 metres from
the end. It was then another hurry up and wait moment,
lowering his mouth with the smoke between his lips, to
Merivale/Tyrrell’s Road intersection and were turned
as we had to sit and allow the fire to burn safely around
the lighter. We all had a giggle at poor Murray’s expense.
around by our captain, as the visibility had dropped from
and past us.
100’s of metres to a few feet. In through properties, out I think that’s when I realised that if we were 20 minutes
onto Tyrrell Road. Our crews needed to save the homes
Todd and Murray went for a walk to the top of the dune,
earlier we would have been out in amongst wattle that
just up there on the right. We were then re-deployed out
as the fire had passed the dozer and it might be able
was three to four metres in height. It would have been a
to Jim Ovens Road, to take some machines into Lyndon
to be saved. Todd drove the light tanker up to the dozer
very small canoe in a big creek with no paddle and a
for construction of containment lines over night.
staying well clear of the hot machine. Andy pulled out the
head wind so to speak. Murray had made a good call.
hose and with me on the branch we got to work. Up one
While waiting for the fire to burn around us to get out,
After getting the machines into Lyndon he knocked us
side then down the other, the heat was fantastic, so I wet
we had all been listening to the speed at which the fires
off and we headed home. Listening to the command
down my boots then back into it. A great result, burnt off
had been travelling and marking off the distances in our
channel after we had reported we were returning to the
some of the paint and lost the cab. But that was about all
minds toward the Scaddan town site. We made it back to
fire shed, we heard the haunting news that the detectives
the visible damage. I told Murray to pull out the air filters
Annie’s Lane and Stockyards just a bit before sun down.
required fire suppression overnight. Andy questioned the
as these can re-start the fire in the engine bay and if no
The boys that had been trapped with us, were released
need for this and both John and I explained as best we
one was around the machine could be lost. I destroyed
to return to their properties around Scaddan and do the
could, the sad requirements of finding and protecting the
my boots, which in the days following would cause me
best that they could under the conditions. John had done
scene of an accident or crime during fires.
a spot forecast with a weather metre for Rowey, we still had wind gusts up to 60 kms per hour. It was still going
While we were now safe, Tom and Todd decided that
to be a long night.
they would push down to the beach and come back in
Up again early and back to the station. We had fuelled and watered up the night before so we were ready to
from the national park. A funny moment was that I had
Out onto Merivale Road and along to Tyrrell’s Road - the
go. I walked into the shed to have John tell us all that it
overheated and was sitting in the front of the truck, AC
plan was to stop the front when it came out of the trees.
was Freddy Curnow, two ladies and another young bloke
on, sipping water and wetting down my gear. I asked
We didn’t have a chance. We were behind one of the
that had sadly been killed the day before while trying to
John if Murray would like to go on some oxygen. He
Merivale trucks and another Quarry Road crew in a two-
out run the fire front in Scaddan. I turned around walked
declined the offer, Andy tried to explain without laughing
point-four. Flame heights of 40 to 50 metres pushed up
outside and dropped to my knees at the front wheel of
that Murray was sitting on the back of the truck trying
from the blue gums and then when it hit Merivale Road,
my ute. Big Tim walked over and put his hand on my
pg 36 | ian hartley
shoulder, we spoke in hushed tones for a few minutes. I gathered myself up and we walked back into the shed together. John then asked us all if we were ready and up to the challenge. No one was going to stay home on that day, we all wanted to be out on the trucks doing what we could for our mates and our community. It was going to be a long day. I was given the task as crew leader on the 1.4 and we headed back out to report to Lyndon at ‘Gerbryn.’ The fire had burnt through the western side of the plantation and was now spotting up to 500 metres out into the pasture on the northern side, and 50 to 60 meters out into the wheat crop on the eastern side. We were tasked to watch the southern end and eastern side and take out unburnt pockets when safe to do so. I was happy about that, my two crew mates for the day had been on the ground since Sunday and needed a bit of down time. Scott took me into the area for a drive, to see what we had to manage. There was still a large area that need to be burnt out. We didn’t have the resources to do a plantation extinguishment so the whole block was condemned to fire. The 1.4 is a very versatile little unit, ideal for back burning operations when placed with a couple of heavy units.
IMAGE: ian hartley | pg 37
IAN HARTLEY’S STORY - CONT. Quarry Road Bushfire Brigade Esperance Fire & Rescue Brigade
Scott and I spoke with Lyndon and Peter. We explained our plan and then they gave use of Murray, who was now operating a grader to put in our bare earth breaks. With a ‘Hill Plains’ heavy unit and other light units, we got permission to light it up. It was good to be working as part of an experienced fire crew. All working with a common goal to make this area safe before or just after night fall. Plus, it didn’t give us any time to dwell on the sad news of the night before. Lyndon stood us down around 7:00pm and we headed back into town. We confirmed with Control and Tom of our return to the Quarry Road station. Tom asked us to park up in the driveway just east of Hicks Road, as he may need the 1.4 to go into some of the wetter areas. While sitting in the dark, we spoke about many different things. I told some stories of working in the mines around Kalgoorlie and Angelo about his mission work in Sydney. For some reason my phone chirped. It hadn’t had reception all day and it was now downloading all the messages and notifications. The first one I opened was Payden’s (my son). He’d posted the fireman’s prayer on Facebook for Freddy. That brought me undone. (Fireman’s Prayer pg 25) I was glad I could talk to Angelo, we had a good conversation and then was tasked with a hop over.
pg 38 | image: ian hartley
Everyone was up that night when I walked in the door at
a latte for smoko. Sadly, I silently knew of his new orders
I was going out as pump operator and driver. We drove
home. The atmosphere was very different. I got a hug
without a word being spoken. It would be a difficult task
for ¾ of an hour. Talking between the three units dried up
and a kiss off both my kids and my wife. We talked for a
for those boys. It was a job I couldn’t have done.
when we hit the southern end of the Cascade fire scar.
while about the impact that would be felt after the loss of
Some of the Fire and Rescue crew had been working
lives and the sadness that was going to be coming in the
The Perth guys and girls were a welcome sight as they
in this area for days now, running food and protection
months, possibly years to follow and finally went to bed
rolled in off the Merivale Road down past our positions.
details for other Government agencies. We had to drive
to sleep for a few hours. We were told that the Perth crews
Andrew then told us we were now officially relieved to go
past the accident scene to get to our call. It was all
would be here in the morning and we would be all stood
water and fuel up and put our gear back on station and
very quiet in the truck as we took in the devastation and
down for a rest, so go home and take it easy.
stand down. It was now about 10:30 am.
the sad loss of life, the realisation that no one will truly understand or comprehend the last thoughts of the four
Well, remember I had destroyed my boots at the dozer,
6:30am. I was startled awake by the phone ringing
so when running and dragging hoses into the scrub for
alongside my bed, with John saying, “the crews aren’t
the boys this morning, I’d stepped on a stake and it
The two Station Officers spoke to Dave for a few minutes
out there for a couple of hours and Andrew’s had a hop
had gone through my right boot and into the sole of my
when we got there and asked a lot of direct questions,
over - can you man the truck? I’m trying to find another
foot between my big toe and its mate. It needed to be
then we all drove up to the sheds. When we hopped out of
removed, a couple of hours at the hospital then around to
the units I explained to one of the S.O.’s who David was.
“John leave it with me,” was my reply. I’d been talking
the Doctor’s, just to dig out a bloody splinter. Talk about
He was a bit taken back by my attitude, but the S.O. and
to my mate the night before and he’d been stood down
feeling like a tool. That cost me a couple of coffees and
I managed to walk Dave away from the rest of the crew
as well, so I contacted Sharpie and we went out for a
a few jokes at my expense.
and asked him how he was going. He had taken a lot
few hours to help. It wasn’t a large hop over but we put it
on himself and when asked if he had spoken to anyone
out. Dragging hoses then cutting fences for the machine,
I dropped back into the control point at the co-location
his answer broke my heart. T.V. crews and reporters. The
we managed to get a bare earth break around it. While
building which was a hive of activity. I told Loni and
S.O. backed me up and could now understand where
we were refilling the water tank out on the road, Sharpie
Matt what had happened and was issued new boots
I was coming from, telling Dave the Padre would be in
took a phone call. He looked at me and said he had
on the spot. An old habit, but I carry both sets of fire
to go. Funny how when you work closely with someone
gear over summer and a call had just come in about a
We could all see there was no problem with any fire and
you can pick up their mood changes. He just said, “This
contaminated site and chemical fire out on a property
we remounted our trucks and left, leaving all our drinks
aint good.” We bid each other farewell, while Gary and
west of Scaddan. From my local knowledge I picked it
and supplies with the very tired and emotionally drained
I pulled the piss out of him saying he had to go and get
straight away as Campbell’s property.
ian hartley | pg 39
IAN HARTLEY’S STORY - CONT. Quarry Road Bushfire Brigade Esperance Fire & Rescue Brigade
The Station Officers were good to their word and
rubbish. Checking out hydrants and then tasked with
The fantastic Gibson Tigers and Scaddan community. It
organised the Padre and liaison officers to go out the
asset protection. Jumping trucks and crews to keep
is great to live in a small town. But history has shown that
next morning, to speak to David and his team. But driving
the experience up across the teams, working with other
the effects that something like this has on a community
past, through the devastation and seeing the despair in
FRS personnel from the Perth strike teams. But a special
can last for many years, if not decades to come.
the eyes of a bloke I truly respect, will be burnt into my
memory was when I came home each night and when I
memory for ever.
left each morning, I got a warm embrace and a kiss from
So, we still need to carry on the good work that has been
my wife and kids, and I told each one of them how much
started. If your mate is staring off into space, is quiet and
I loved them and they told me the same thing.
withdrawn. MAN UP.
I had the next day at work as we had been stood down.
All it takes is for you to start the conversation.
I went to Kalgoorlie by car to return with the empty fuel
By this stage we were doing running repairs to the rescue
train the next morning. As we topped the hill at Gibson
gear, pumps and we needed some signs made up.
you could still see the smoke rising in the distance. I
I walked into a local business and had them hand me the
had been awake at 11:00pm from the night before and
gear we needed, no payments required. O-rings, tape
we had to cross a train just out of town. I turned my
and signs where all donated with a hand shake and a
phone on to see 15 missed calls from Payden. ‘They
word of thanks for our efforts. I am still amazed at the
had been told to evacuate, please call me dad,’ said
community spirit of Esperance.
the text messages. Within ½ an hour I was at the town station. Loni handed me a job list of who to contact and
Being on station from 6:00am till 7:00pm and the jobs that
a couple of other notes from my mates in the SES, then
flowed in and out, the high stress loads of our officers,
out to Quarry Road I drove. Lonica said that it was all
it was a proud feeling to be part of this young and
good and not to panic. Just check on Payden and then
enthusiastic Fire and Rescue Brigade and experienced
return to the station.
Quarry Road Bush Fire Brigade. But sadly, I can see the weight that they all carry.
It was all good for about the first 20 minutes. What I remember of the following days are a blur. Car
The community has done a wonderful job in the last 12 to
under a dozer (we were happy no one was injured,
18 months of looking after each other. From the kids that
but we were happier that it was a T.V. reporter’s car),
made letters to put in the lunch packs and the ladies that
somebody lighting a fire in their back yard to clean up
helped in the food preparations.
pg 40 | ian hartley
image: ian hartley | pg 41
pg 42 | image: ian hartley
image: blake halford | pg 43
THE SHIFT CHANGE Truslove Reserve, Scaddan Members of local & visiting brigades.
pg 44 | the shift change, scaddan
the shift change, scaddan | pg 45
pg 46 | image: blake halford
image: blake halford | pg 47
BLAKE HALFORD Gibson Bushire Brigade Captain
The Sunday 15th November, I was harvesting in Gibson
through and come back into the area afterwards. At
the way up to Gibson, we were driving into 60 to 80km/hr
when thunderstorms rolled through. After the storm had
that stage, the fire wasn’t heading directly towards the
headwinds and 40 plus degrees C heat, which caused
passed there were several fires to extinguish and we
properties, but more so towards the coast.
all the vehicles to overheat. It was that hot that by the time
were requested to send a unit to Merivale. A fire lit by a strike had escalated and there was trouble accessing it.
we reached Gibson, all the vehicles had boiled over. Whilst this was going on, we had no reports over the radio at all from the Cascade fire. Communications just
We stopped in Gibson for ten minutes to refuel, resupply
We sent another truck on Monday and were also
weren’t coming through. However, I was getting several
and hose down the radiators. I spoke to the brigade
requested to leave a second truck in Gibson, in case it
phone calls from Gibson residents with fire radios who
members on station and gathered maps and information
needed to be sent to a fire that had started in Cascade.
could hear Cascade, and they told me that we were at
in regards to what crews were at the fire and what would
the wrong fire.
be the best access route.
If the weather forecast was to hit, we would need as
We decided that the best plan was to head up to
Emphasis was placed on the Merivale fire, as it was closer to town and more of an immediate threat.
many people at the Cascade fire as we could get. There
Scaddan, turn up Grigg Road and this would take us to
The Tuesday weather forecast was for high temperatures
were trucks on the way in from Howick and Condingup
the intersection of Fields road and Rollands Road, the
and strong winds. It was probably then that I realised
brigades, so we requested to redeploy to Cascade.
last known position of the units combating the Cascade
how serious the situation may become.
fire some 30kms away. t made sense to me, as we knew the country better. On
On Tuesday morning, we were requested to send all
the second request to be redeployed, we were given
Driving up to Scaddan, smoke covered the entire horizon.
units to the Merivale fire. I asked if one should stay for
permission to head off.
The smoke looked like a huge, rolling thunderhead. It just
Cascade, but was told that homes were now under threat from the Merivale fire.
defied belief how big it was. As we came to Scaddan, I think it was about mid afternoon, but so much happened
we were coming directly under the smoke plume. There
that it’s hard to keep track of time. During this, I had been
was no way to determine which way the fire was coming
At the fire ground the fire was burning out to an area
gathering information from people we had contact with
from, the smoke was so thick. The last reports were that
that we could access and were preparing for an assault.
closer to the Cascade fire and developing a plan on
the front was 30km to the west of the town.
We were then pulled back to Stockyards due to the
what to do.
danger, so were going to carry out asset protection on
By the time we turned onto Grigg Road, we were
homes instead. But once again we were pulled out from
We took an alternate route to other crews and went north
completely under the smoke cloud. Driving conditions
the properties and the order was given to let the fire go
through Gibson as we needed to refuel and resupply. On
had deteriorated. Visibility didn’t extend past the bonnet
pg 48 | blake halford
of the light tanker. Winds were now in excess of
As we drove through Scaddan I called the Shire and
We pulled up at the teacher’s house. It was so black –
100 km/hr. Myself and another member were in the third
told them that the fire was about to hit the town and to
just like the middle of the night. We had the lights and
vehicle advancing, with about 1km in between each unit.
evacuate the area immediately. The voice that answered
sirens on and I could see the teachers silhouette behind
We kept pushing forward even though the visibility was
me then asked me to repeat what I had just said, with a
the screen door.
terrible – we were still under the assumption that the fire
lot of disbelief. I repeated that we need to evacuate the
was still so far away and the strong winds were forcing
Scaddan area as the fire was on top of us. There was a
I opened the door and got out of the truck for the first time
the smoke to blanket the whole area.
long pause and the radio was the quietest it had been
since we left Gibson. The wind was so strong it felt like it
for the entire day.
was going to snap the truck’s door off.
punching through the smoke. They were faced with a
As we drove through Scaddan town site I realised that
It’s funny what you do and don’t remember.
wall of flames, with tornadoes of fire that came at them
other than making calls, the Shire couldn’t do much to
I remember how the smoke was thick and choking. It
physically evacuate the area. I wasn’t familiar with the
was crazy hot, we had been cooking in the cab all day
Our lead truck got 5 to 6km down the road before
amount of houses in the town site, so asked the other
as the air con wasn’t working and you could just feel
The only action was to turn around and get out, which
brigade members. I was told that there was a school
the ambient heat of the fire. I can remember being hit by
we did by the skin of our teeth. I heard the lead truck
embers and branches in the air, but not what it felt like. I
immediately radio to the truck behind telling them they
remember how strong the wind was but I can’t remember
had turned around and to do the same. They then told
I pulled to the side of the road and my two trucks went
the sound. I know it was deafening – but I can’t recall
me to turn around as well. I pulled up because I couldn’t
past and kept heading south. It crossed my mind whether
what that sound was.
see anything, and told them I would stay and wait for
we should go back to check for the teacher. I did a U turn
them to go past. They yelled to ‘get out of here now,’
and then hit the brakes. The wall of black and winds in
I yelled to the teacher that we had to leave right now.
over the radio. There was a lot of concern in their voices.
front of us was just frightening.
The fire had caught up with us and had cut access to
We drove back to the intersection of the Coolgardie
At that stage, I asked my other crew member, “Should
Highway and waited for the two forward trucks there.
we go back?”
the highway, we could see the flames approaching hundreds of metres away. We ran to the vehicles.
I got no response, it was complete silence between the
We got the teacher into her car as there was no room in
We then headed south to get out of the fire’s path. At that
two of us. I don’t know what really went through my head
the light tanker, and then followed her out of the town site
point we couldn’t stop. We were trying to preserve our
at that moment, but I decided to go back in, so I gunned
down Kendall Road, as by that stage it was the only way
it to get back to the town as quick as we could.
out. We only just made it out of there in time.
blake halford | pg 49
BLAKE HALFORD - CONT. Gibson Bushire Brigade Captain
We had a 100km per hour plus tail wind, so we were
We kept going until we reached the bush reserve on
still a lot of fire to contain. During this I had been contacting
driving quite quickly. Once we got out far enough ahead
Styles Road and Dempster Road. A farmer there was
my other trucks to see where they were and to get them
of the fire we stopped and gave the teacher directions
evacuating his farm and animals, before returning
to help on the front. They had come back to Scaddan
down to Esperance and out of harms way. We then
to defend. My offsider and I were sick of running and
after the fire went through and put out numerous houses
decided to try and reconnect with my other fire units.
wanted to do something, so we decided to defend until
as well as the country club. I requested them to come to
the farmer returned.
the front. Over the radio I got a blunt reply, informing me
From Liebeck Road, we headed down Scaddan Road for
that ‘we can’t leave where we are’ – with no explanation
a few kilometres before getting hold of the other crews.
Just as the fire front hit the driveway, the wind change
as to why.
They told us that the fire had already jumped Scaddan
came in from the south west. At that point the fire was still
Road and was not passable.
out of control but it wasn’t as fierce or heading towards
I managed to make contact with one of my team
us. I remember thinking, ‘Righto, we can start attacking it
members by mobile. He explained to me that they had
At one point, we stopped. We could see the flames
now.’ We mopped up around the house then continued
come across several people who hadn’t been so lucky
about three kilometres away. It was all quite surreal and
on. It was a case of ‘Where do we start?’ We were just
getting out. The units had been told to remain there until
it hadn’t really sunk in what we had just been through.
one light tanker and 500L of water.
out and walk a few metres to take a picture, there were
Then, through the farm land to the south came a fleet of
We continued our efforts helping control the fire on the
spot fires starting 200m in front of us. Needless to say,
vehicles – trucks, utes and water tankers. It was pretty
eastern edge. When it looked like it was under control, I
no photos were taken.
nice to see them! We organised all of them to put out
informed Gavin what I had learnt, and that I was going to
everything on the southern boundary of Scaddan Road,
go back and try to get the other units back online.
We got out to take a photo, but by the time it took to get
Back in the light tanker, we headed east until we saw
then headed up Styles Road to get ahead of the fire. The
Peter Harkness in his private vehicle, he informed us we
fire was heading north east and we needed appliances
On the way back, we followed the northern edge of the fire
wouldn’t be able to go any further east as the fire had
up there. On the way we ran in to Scaddan Captain, Gavin
along Coolgardie Highway and relayed the information
jumped Scaddan Road. This was confirmed by my units
Egan, who had his farm unit. After a quick discussion we
back to Gavin Egan. We returned to Grigg Road to where
over the radio. We then started to leap frog from property
split up. We would secure the south-east section of the
our two units were stationed. Other brigade members that
to property to warn everyone and make sure everyone
fire with a few units whilst Gavin went to secure the north
were on station had organised relief crews for our trucks,
was out of harms way, and ask people to check on
but one person from each truck had to stay on each
their neighbours. It was still very dark and we were still
After the south-east section was secure we headed up to
incident. My main aim at that point was to get the trucks
separated from the rest of our crew.
the north east corner to render assistance, as there was
back extinguishing the fire.
pg 50 | blake halford
We crew changed in Scaddan as organised, but I stayed
intelligence as we could. Then we would head north
On Monday – another thunderstorm rolled through. A
on – I had a fair idea of where the fire was and where
through the fire scar to the northern edge then head east
week after the first storm, lightning strikes once again
we needed to go next. I took the fresh crew up to Browns
mopping up and mapping the fire line until we were back
started more fires in the region. During that thunderstorm
Road as there was no one working up there. The fire
to Browns Road, where we had finished the night before.
the Gibson brigade put out fresh fires in Neridup, Grass
had died down but due to the darkness and unknown
Patch and Gibson with the assistance of other brigades
terrain, which included lakes and fences, we were having
After about 15 kilometres into our plan we were requested
difficulty travelling around. We worked for several hours
back to Scaddan to assist other crews that had been
helping property owners, before finally calling it a night.
deployed to stop fire travelling down a nature reserve
Finally, it rained that night - and then we all tried to go back
which could become a problem in the following days.
to some normalcy. The near death experiences and loss
We all went home to get a couple of hours sleep and decided to get back into it at first light.
and town crews.
of a very close friend to many members, took its toll on We assisted there the rest of the day, accessing and
a lot of our brigade. Everyone has had to deal with what
extinguishing the fire. Unfortunately we were not able to
they went through in their own way. At times even I have
The next day we met at the fire shed to the sight of about
complete our original plan of mapping the fire ground
thought whether I could have done something differently.
40 people, who had also turned up to help. I was slightly
and assisting all the farmers on the southern and northern
You run different strategies through your head – everyone
daunted as to what to do with them all! I ended up splitting
goes through what they ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.’
them into three groups; the first group would crew trucks
In those conditions there’s not much you really can do
on the fire ground, the second group was to assemble as
The next few days we did the same at the Truslove Nature
many farm fire units as they could and join a fire control
Reserve, assisted by crews from out of town. After 5 days
officer on the south east fire, whilst the third group would
on the Scaddan/Cascade fire grounds, the fire was
It has been such a traumatic experience and had such
head out and assist farmers in disposing dead livestock
finally secured and contained.
an impact on the community that the stories need to be
and salvaging what they could from the burnt out farms.
and everyone involved did their best.
told, to assist the community in recovering. It’s also worth On the Saturday, we were requested back to the Merivale
noting that due to the bureaucracy, it’s harder and harder
I led the Gibson fire appliances with the plan to secure
fire, as it had flared up and was out of control, once
to operate as a volunteer, but it’s always nice to have
the southwest flank in case of another northerly wind, as
again threatening homes. The Gibson brigade was then
well as mapping the fire ground. Our plan was to head
attached to Esperance Volunteer Fire and Rescue and
Blake Halford received the 2016 Murray Lang Bushfire
west on the southern flank and mop up as we went and
played a pivotal role in the defence of the Newtown
Service of WA Award. This is awarded to an active,
assist farmers and map the fire line as we went, until
Football Club and homes in the Quarry Road area. A
operational volunteer from the WA Bush Fire Service who
we caught up with the Cascade crew, gather as much
full day was spent there, before mopping up on Sunday.
has made an outstanding contribution in the past year.
blake halford | pg 51
THERE ARE BUSH FIRE AND FIRE BRIGADE VOLUNTEERS ACROSS WESTERN AUSTRALIA. THERE ARE NO PAID FIRE FIGHTERS WITHIN ESPERANCE. THE S.E.S, MARINE RESCUE, FIRE AND RESCUE, AND THE BUSHFIRE BRIGADES ARE ALSO ALL VOLUNTEERS.
pg 52 | BUSH FIRE VOLUNTEERS
IMAGE: blake halford | pg 53
pg 54 | IMAGE: WATER BOMBER, blake halford
IMAGE: ADAM CLARK | pg 55
A FIREY’S SNAP SHOT Sharpe’s Story - November 2015 Bushfires
At the time of the November 2015 bushfires I had been
The team was under the pump so I headed over to Dome
a member of the Esperance Volunteer Fire & Rescue
and brought them both a coffee. I didn’t want to get in the
On station at 06:00 for a briefing and tasking for all
Service (VFRS) for about ten years. As a VFRS brigade
way, so before heading home I told Loni to give me a call
Esperance VFRS members. Only twelve members were
our primary role is structural fire, road accident rescue
if she needed me.Within the hour she was on the phone
available as the rest were already out crewing up on
and hazardous material response. We also respond
and I was on my way west in a Shire Ute driving maps
bushfire appliances. We immediately split into six man,
to bushfires in the Esperance urban rural interface in
and water out to the Esperance Emergency Services –
night and day shift crews. Neddy and I were teamed up
support of our brothers in the bushfire brigades.
Communications Van (CV).
in LT-01 (Light Tanker, Land Cruiser with 650Lt of water).
This is a snap shot of my experience during the November
It was stinking hot and blowing a very stiff westerly.
Scaddan. It was a little surreal driving into Scaddan
I found the CV up north along Coomalbidgup Road
surrounded by smoke with building and power poles
under a massive plume of smoke which seemed to be
down and on fire.
Our first job was to escort a semi full of diesel fuel into
developing its own weather pattern. I got back to town On the 16 Nov 15, after a 14 day swing at work, I was
at around 17:00 (160km round trip) and walked into
We found the safest place to park up the semi then
driving back to Esperance. Around Munglinup (100Km
controlled mayhem in Incident Control.
headed off and found the Sector Commander a few
from Esperance) I started noticing a large plume of
kilometres south outside the burn scar. We then headed
smoke to the north of the highway, up Cascade way. As
Loni turned to me and said “We are moving to the
back to the road block at Browning Road and picked up
I drove closer to Esperance a second plume of smoke
Emergency Services Co-location building on Brazier
an ambulance and the Agricultural Department to escort
materialised east of town. I remember thinking “shit this
Street, I need it set up for incident control and I need food
them onto the fire ground at Cascade, via Grigg Road.
is going to be big!” As soon as I got to town I dropped
for 20 people for 48hrs.” She handed me a Mastercard
down to the DFES Area Office on Dempster Street.
and I was out the door.
After handing off the ambulance we escorted the Ag Dept doing animal welfare checks. Later that evening
As I entered, the incident control team were going into
I dropped in the Co-location building to make sure the
we caught up with a group of vets, farmers and bushies
a closed door meeting so I ducked into the DFES Area
SES boys were setting up for incident control. I then
(Bushfire Fighters) on a property up Belgian Road.
Officer’s office to find Loni (VFRS Captain) going ‘hell
cleaned Caltex out of food. Next stop was the Pier Hotel
for leather’ on the radio and phone, while Willo was
where I explained the situation to the chef. Through their
One of the bushies called me over for a chat. “G’day
on the phone getting in touch with the residents out on
generosity I walked out with enough food to feed an
Sharpey.. mate we just about got killed yesterday!” Out
Stockyard Road to advise them that an evacuation had
Grigg Road were you? “Yes mate, we were doing 80km/
been declared for the area.
pg 56 | sharpe’s story
hr across a paddock in the 2.4 (Bushfire Appliance with
2 ton of water and 4x4), we couldn’t out run it (the fire
Just after we arrived at the CV, a Task Force of about 15
Despite the best efforts of the DFES Safety Officer, we
front); some bloke in a light aircraft called up on the
metro appliances turned up. We couldn’t quiet grasp the
kept the appliance on the fire ground for another two
radio and told us to head south. We did and survived!”
concept of why 15 appliances were deployed 60 Kms
days before the diesel fitters could replace the engine
(approximately 450km travelled that day).
behind the fire front. But we made the call to leave the CV
mounts. (approximately 360km travelled).
and headed back to town, the Task Force would be lost On that day, as on a number of other occasions over the
without the CV.
six days, our little red fire trucks (FRS LT 01/02) bounced
I got a call sometime after 04:00; “Sharpey we have a
up the raceway of farms out Cascade and Scaddan to
About 30kms out of town we came within radio coverage.
problem at Merivale, can you crew up on Quarry Road
a find a farmer with blackened face with tear streaks
“LT-2 …. LT-2 this is Incident Control” After acknowledging
2.4?” For the next 2hrs I was hanging off a hose or cutting
standing in front of his smouldering machinery shed.
the call IC asked us to respond to a fire at Cape Le Grand.
fence lines so that the frontend loaders could push fire
Now considering we had just left 15 fire appliances and
breaks to the south of Stonehenge. Just after 06:00 I
“G’day mate, do you need a feed?”
had 110Kms to travel to get to Cape Le Grand, we replied
got a call; “Sharpey its Matt where the hell are you?”
“Yes mate I haven’t eaten for three days”. We’d hand over
Yes and asked if we had any backup.
“Mate I’m out Merivale on QR 2.4,” “Can you get back
boxes of food and water and head off into the smoke.
to Merivale Road, I’ll send a car out... I’ve got a job for The reply was negative!
The routine for the six days was punctuated by early
you”. About twenty minutes later I walked into Incident Control grabbing some food on the way in.
starts where I’d be out helping a farmer move cattle then
We spent the remainder of the day supporting DPaW
give him a hand to fit a new slip-on fire unit to his farm
Rangers reinforcing a 15km fire break down to the coast
Matt pulled me aside. “Mate you and Sunnie are going
ute so he could get out and help the boys at Cascade.
with a back burn.
out to Grigg Road to extract the deceased. Head down to the Cop Shop for a briefing when you are good to go.
At the same time I was fielding calls from a farmer mate
We were a happy little group of Firies when Geoff and
out south east around Merivale and Dunns Rocks Roads
Rory turned up in a DPaW heavy duty appliance that
who needed a hand.
they had liberated and Brando and Neddy in LT-01.
Take LT-1 and the rescue trailer!” (a 130km round trip) We got back on station sometime after 17:00’ish and I was sitting on the grid mesh step on the back of the
We came out after dark with our fire pump lashed on
Country Pump (Esperance’s primary fire & rescue
Grantly and I team up in LT-02 for yet another trip out to
to the appliance with some 6mm rope and a bush
appliance) throwing a Coke down my throat when Loni
Cascade, this time to pick up the CV and bring it back
mechanics engine mount made of a Coke can, a piece
(VFRS Captain) stepped in front of me with her phone to
to Esperance where fires were now threatening the town.
of cardboard, an O ring and two sticks.
her ear and handed me some sheets of paper.
sharpe’s story | pg 57
A FIREY’S SNAP SHOT - CONT. Sharpe’s Story - November 2015 Bushfires
I was looking at material safety data sheets for a
the Gun Club the visibility was less than a metre, I got a
FRS, you need a hand?” After our little fire fight I snapped
chemical, Loni just said “Hazmat... Grigg Road ...
call on my radio from my mate Ian. “Sharpey where are
a selfie with my new friend, recovered my hose and
Campbell’s property”, out we went again, coming back
you guys? I’m in Dalyup 2.4 behind the Gun Club and
rejoined the Metro crew.
late evening. (another 130kms)
being overrun by the fire!” “Mate we are just past you …. give me a call if you need a hand!”
A little while later I snapped another selfie as some Divisional Officer was attempting to brief the assembled
The Mullet Lake fire was now threatening residents around
At Newtown there were multiple appliances relay
firefighters on Goldfields Road, he seemed to be a
Myrup and Quarry Road. Our first job was property
pumping to make sure we had water to protect the
little overawed by the situation. Within 100m of us two
protection at Myrup Air Estate. While the bushies were
buildings. Dressed in breathing apparatus, Brando and I
bulldozers were punching brakes onto Goldfields Road
lined up to the east of the air strip patrolling for spot overs
followed the hose through the smoke and found a bushy
from the east and west, water tankers and multiple fire
we were around the hangers rolling LPG cylinders away
from Kalamunda on the end of the hose. As soon as we
appliances were moving onto the road while a bomber
from houses and determining what was defendable. As
got there he took giant steps back to the safety of the
dropped on the road verge.
the fire front passed us we fell back to Quarry Road to
appliances. In the middle of this I heard my name called, I turned
ensure residents had evacuated. I remember checking a property off Petarli Place where I found the owner out the
Two Pink Lake units were to our left, over the fence a dozer,
around to find a Metro Firey, who I’d crossed paths with
back in his Bobcat.
grader and loader were punching their way through the
a few times over the last few days, sitting in a very flash
flames. At that moment a water bomber dropped on
car. “Nice wheels, where did you find it?” “Someone left
“Mate what are you doing here? This area has been
top of us. After that we fell back to Tranquil Drive.Our
the keys in the ignition so I borrowed it to come out and
appliances started to break down so I grabbed my
see if you guys needed anything”. The Firey was sitting
“I’m protecting my property”,
breathing apparatus set, jumped into Metro 3.4 and went
behind the wheel of a police squad car.
“Mate you should have done that three months ago!” I
back into the fray around Woody Lake. Within minutes
took his name and address, SMS it to Incident Control
Metro 3.4 was into it, backing up a Ledge Point LT crew.
and moved on.
The Metro crew started relay pumping to the LT, while
Within minutes we had a call from Speedy to fall back
I threw a flaked hose over my shoulder and legged it
to the Newtown Football Clubhouse, he needed two
down the Ledge Point hose into the paper barks where I
“the corner of Fisheries and Merivale Roads”…
breathing apparatus operators to do a forced entry on
found a big bloke from Kalamunda on the end of the hose
The boys are moving for the appliances...
the club house and property protection. While passing
surrounded by fire. “G’day mate, Sharpey Esperance
“Bulldozer versus light vehicle”, shit!
pg 58 | sharpe’s story
ear, The on...
The incident turned out to be social get together with more Firies and appliances responding than you could point a smouldering stick at. It was a good laugh to see the perplexed look on the DFES Safety Officer’s face when he turned up at the scene to find the alleged perpetrator of the crime, a CAT bulldozer and his side kick, a semi, had already fled the scene. Leaving a crushed Toyota Kluger and the film crew who had filmed the demise of their vehicle.
The routine was the same just a little slower pace. Esperance FRS had by now procured six appliances, one for each member on station, life was good! Come 13:00 I went into the Co-location building kitchen where my wife and daughter had been running with logistics for the past week, I gave them both a kiss, got in my Prado, and headed back to work for another 14 days. I hadn’t even got to the Collier Road rail crossing, on the out skirts of town, when my phone rang. “Esperance FRS we have a reported house fire, corner of …………… Castletown”. I kept driving. As I passed the Munglinup CBH bins (100km from Esperance) my phone rang again, this time it was my work colleague Jimmy; “Sharpey DFES just rang, they’ve got fires up at West River they’ve asked if you can take the 3.4 out there”. Here we go again!
DIRTY JOBS DONE DIRT CHEAP! newtown-condingup football club | pg 59
pg 60 | newtown-condingup football club
newtown-condingup football club | pg 61
pg 62 | newtown-condingup football club
POEM, UNTITLED. - Lucy Gardiner, Esperance Anglican Community School There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, And swallows circling with their shimmering sound; And frogs in the pools singing at night, And baby silver mallees sparkling in stark which headlights. The pink and greys will wear their feathery fire, Whistling their whims on a low fence wire. The once golden landscape, surrendered to the terrifying beauty Leading to idyllic destruction and community unity. Predicted five tonne wheat crops take on the texture of the moon, The dry, hot earth itself praying for sweet rains to come soon. The families, friends who weep for those lost, The lost who protected others, no matter the cost. We stand behind them, Our hearts in our hands, ready to rebuild and start again. There will come sweet soft rains, nourishing our now desert land, Delivering deep rich soils, instead of dry, hot sand. From all this destruction comes a beautiful truth, A resounding message for the elderly through to the youth The community of Esperance has come together Sharing the pain, discussing the weather. And although Mother Nature was angered and inflicted so much pain, We find ourselves thanking her, for her loving gift of sweet, soft rain.
coolgardie-esperance highway | pg 63
KAREN NAYLOR Karen is now the Emergency Services Co-ordinator, after taking up the role in mid 2016.
The Tuesday morning of the fire, I was up at the Shire
and process bills to do with keeping the services going in
over a house – a farmer is protecting his property, but he
admin office when I got a call from Lonica Collins, who
the field. By 9.30am things had progressed and I took the
requires assistance – can anyone help him?”
was our Emergency Services Coordinator. She said to
minutes for the local emergency management meeting,
me, “Kaz, I’m a bit under the pump here – do you reckon
before another meeting was held just an hour later.
you could ask Cill if it’s ok and could you come down and give me a hand at the DFES office?”
At one stage, one of the dozers got bogged, so Brian was hovering over that and calling through the on-
From about 10.30am things really escalated and the
ground actions, as the guys on the ground have gone
two-ways and phones just kept going off. Loni asked
in and pretty much saved the dozer driver. Brian finally
At the time, I was employed as the Shire’s Project
me to help man the two-way and DFES phone – and this
relayed, “The dozers bogged, they’ve got the driver out.”
Reporting Officer, so the call was outside my usual work
became my main role until about 9pm that night.
Brian was mainly dealing with the Merivale fire at that
point. During the afternoon, over the two- way we have During that time, I received and recorded over 200 phone
got a call from Cascade.
After her call things started to heat up quite quickly. I got
calls and two-way conversations that came through from
down to the office at around 8.30am and there were quite
the fire grounds. The ones that really stood out for me
The caller stated, “We need the helicopter, we need it
a few people there already.
were the two-way conversations, several of which I can
NOW in Cascade – I don’t know where this thing’s
down to the office I was filled in further. On the Sunday
One conversation occurred whilst we had Brian in the
It was very hectic. Obviously as soon as something
14 fires had started in the area, and as of that morning
helicopter over the fire ground. Someone from the ground
critical came across it needed to be relayed on. To me,
there were still four that were uncontrolled. Two major fires
had said ‘the fire height is about 70 to 100 metres.’ Brian
pretty much anything that anyone said during that period
were in National Parks and under the control of DPAW.
had quickly cut in to reply, “No – it’s about 100 to 200
was critical. The point was to try and decipher what
The two we were mainly looking at were the Merivale and
was a little bit more important than something else – like
I knew the fires had started on Sunday and once I got
the Cascade fires.
danger to life. Another account was once again with Brian in the
Initially on Tuesday the Merivale fire was our main
helicopter – all of a sudden, the call ‘Get out, get out
I had another couple of runners that helped me in the
concern as it was close to private property and houses,
now!’ came across the radio.
office on that day – and as soon as something came
until the Cascade fire started to run after lunch. My first job after I walked in was to continue ordering food
pg 64 | karen naylor
up I’d run out and get them to write down notes. Being Another call from Brian came as he flew over a house.
close we were lucky that we were able to quickly relay
He comes onto the two-way saying “Guys, I’m hovering
the messages to the guys that needed to know.
Then they could make a phone call or call up on the
During the evening, we had confirmation of the loss of life,
I don’t think that you can really say thanks, because
two-way and try and provide the assistance that was
I knew Lonica as the Community Emergency Services
thanks really doesn’t sum up our feelings. The fact is
Coordinator, Chief Bush Fire Control Officer Tom Brown,
you know if this was to happen in someone else’s back
along with DFES Area Officer Gavin Wornes would be
yard, you are going to step up.
Early afternoon we found out that the Cascade fire had
very busy over the next few days. Lonica asked me if I
broke containments and was running very fast. After that
would take her Emergency Services phone and continue
That’s the thing, thanks is fine, and it’s great to hear it,
point there were a couple of calls that came in by two-
to manage incoming calls.
but the fact is these people know, if this was to happen in
way, that have stuck with me.
their back yard, the Shire of Esperance, the Esperance I did that for the next 8 days and along with Mel Ammon,
community and the Bushfire Brigade Volunteers would
“You need to evacuate Scaddan, Scaddan’s gonna be
who manned the night shift for that period, we acted in
step up and return the favour.
hit – it’s a 20 kilometre front, it’s gonna hit in 15 minutes.”
an ongoing local government advisor/ support role to the
To hear that and to think – crap, we need to move quickly.
Incident Management Team that had come down from Perth.
“It’s jumped the Coolgardie Highway.” “I’ve got the teacher out but it’s hot on my heels.” “A house is on fire – I’m running out of water.”
During those 8 days I got a fair understanding of the role. When the position of Emergency Services Coordinator came up 6 months later, I applied. I had always been
These were two-way calls that all occurred as it went
interested in the job, but after the experience I had during
through Scaddan. These last four statements – although
the fire, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
just a few words each – really stand out for me. It wasn’t a smooth road and it took 3 months of back and About 7.15pm that night, was the first time since I had
forth before I got the job – but I was determined to do it.
walked into the DFES office that morning, which I actually
In a way, the experiences of the fire have helped put me
got back outside. I had spent the whole time sitting at
in the position I am in now.
the desk. And when I went outside, it was very surreal because it was the first time I felt how hot the day had
I have been asked if there is another word to say besides
been. It was still very hot at quarter past seven - and
‘thanks’ that properly expresses the amount of gratitude
there was ash everywhere in the street.
karen naylor | pg 65
“A STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRES” - WILL CARMODY Captain of the Cascade Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Will was Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Incident Control Officer with Shire of Esperance at Level 1 fire.
This is really a tale of two fires. Of one that was quickly and successfully contained, and one, that for all our efforts, got away. It is the story of how as a collective unit, we worked through each issue that we were faced with as best we possibly could with the tools and time we had available. And it is a story, that illustrates the two starkly opposite outcomes for the same situation. Early on Sunday 15th November at about 5am, a large thunderstorm passed over the Cascades district. It was an absolute window rattler, waking everyone from their sleep. At ‘Maryland Too’ the thunder and lightning had drawn one of our workers, Jeremy, out before 6am. Knowing the danger of the winds and heat predicted for the next few days, he went for a drive to check for strike fires. On smelling the unmistakable tang of smoke he had come back to let me know that a fire had started out in the bush, and we needed to get onto it straight away. I immediately spoke to my brother Paul, several
IMAGE (above): Aeriel view of the first strike fire and the
We had invested the time to get onto it and within the space
inhospitable salt lake bushland the blazes originated in.
of a few hours, we had managed to extinguish it completely.
Photographer: Will Carmody
Thoughts of ‘You beauty, we got it out, we’re heroes. We’re
neighbours, the Munglinup Bushfire Brigade and had
all alright now,’ were foremost in my mind. If we had not
also notified Gavin from DFES in Esperance. We then
This fire we were able to get onto early and successfully
been successful, the front would have come straight out
went about organising loaders for cutting a break, fire
get around. One ringing break around the fire and about
of the bush, into a heavy barley crop and before getting
trucks, and a bunch of firies to snuff out the blaze, which
40,000 litres of water later, the smouldering blaze was out.
away from us in a tangle of indefensible river system.
was slowly growing in thick bush bordering the farmland.
pg 66 | WILL CARMODY
IMAGE (left): Aeriel view of the first strike fire showing the completed break ringing the burn area, which was estimated to be the size of a football oval. Photographer: Will Carmody It was while breathing this sigh of relief that I received a call from Mark Walter. He had just arrived back home, where he had spotted another fire further up in the bush, about 10km from the closest farmland. Right away I got hold of Jeremy and we headed for my plane. We were up within the hour and with Jeremy in the passenger seat taking photos, we flew out over the second fire. I called Gavin at DFES and told him that while we had been successful in putting the first fire out; we had another one to deal with. While circling the area, we decided we could get around this second strike as well and keep it hemmed into the surrounding lake system - provided the wind wasnâ€™t too bad. Unfortunately, this would prove a more difficult task than first imagined. Back on the ground, I went about trying to organise bulldozers and aerial bombers for back up of on ground machinery with Gavin. By 11am the fire was building. As lunchtime came around, we were still working on mobilising machinery. In the meantime, Steve from DPAW had come out and checked on the first fire, making sure it was well and truly out. Still found one ember.
WILL CARMODY | pg 67
“A STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRES” - WILL CARMODY - CONT. Captain of the Cascade Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Will was Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Incident Control Officer with Shire of Esperance at Level 1 fire.
pg 68 | WILL CARMODY
IMAGE (opposite): Taken from the helicopter on Sunday
Monday dawned, and I was up in my plane again
around the edge of the fire.
afternoon. The skyline shows the fire pushing out from its
by 6.30am and over the fire by 7am. In the face of all
We couldn’t get any water bombers in, so I sent the
ignition point. Photographer: Will Carmody
predicted weather, the morning was still, cool and calm.
dozer in via a longer route that would ensure the safety of
There was little smoke on the horizon. Once again we
the machinery operator. However, this turned the straight
I had also asked if the helicopter could come out from
pleaded for some water bombers – if not to put the
4 – 6km route to the fire’s location, into a 15 – 20km
Esperance to allow us a better look at the building fire,
slumbering fire out, to at least keep it cool and small.
round trip through heavy bush and around lake systems,
but by this point, there were fires and thunderstorms
tripling the distance it would take just to get to where work
close to the town and the chopper was unable to make
However, the bombers were busy with blazes elsewhere.
it. At around 4pm on Sunday, the chopper was freed
We were still down one dozer for the chain, but the first
up and we finally got back out over the fire. Mick from
dozer was once again cutting away through the bush
IMAGE (below): Monday morning dawns revealing
DPAW advised the department that both DPAW and DFES
towards the fire, having started at 5am. Once the fire
the fire still burning, now near the bank of a salt lake.
were operationally stretched and were not in a position
was reached the machine would begin tracking a break
Photographer: Will Carmody
to operationally control the fire, due to a huge amount of fires state-wide. With Gavin, I organised another set of bulldozers that would be tasked with chaining further breaks near Neds Corner and Pyramid Hill Road and renewing an existing break that stood between the fire front and bordering crops. This break would be our buffer if the fire managed to jump the break that was to hem it into the lake system. We also wanted to put breaks further back into the farmland as well, giving us plans B & C. A grader was also to be mobilised to assist break efforts. That evening, I organised with locals to be at the fire ground early the next morning.
WILL CARMODY | pg 69
“A STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRES” - WILL CARMODY - CONT. Captain of the Cascade Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Will was Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Incident Control Officer with Shire of Esperance at Level 1 fire.
Fire trucks were on site by seven, waiting in readiness for
Until another machine arrived, the clearing chain and
An hour later at 6pm, a second bulldozer for the chaining
backburning. An incident control van (ICV) was brought
associated bulldozer would have to sit idle.
effort finally arrived and the chain once again began to
up from town to act as the operations centre, as the scale
move, as we tried to make some sort of headway with
of efforts to halt the fire continued to build. Esperance
Early afternoon I went up for another scout, this time in
the buffer breaks that made up plan B. Originally, we had
operations were still busy with fires in Merivale.
a neighbour’s plane, taking more images and checking
wanted to back burn along these breaks as well, but with
on both the fire and bulldozer’s progress. Whilst airborne
the time, weather and machine issues the backburning
By 9am local farmers were organised into a harvest
we received aircraft to aircraft communications from the
had to be scrapped.
and plough crew. They promptly set about harvesting
chopper, who had once again come out to allow a better
boundary crops near the fire, all for good reason.
aerial view. A bit after 2pm we landed, and I jumped
The tracking bulldozer managed to work until 11.30pm
Everyone was cutting the stubble down short, in an effort
into the chopper. We also picked up officers from Parks
before poor visibility in the dangerous terrain forced it
to lower the carrying capacity of the crops in case the
and Wildlife and while in the air we all discussed what I
to knock off. The lake systems were treacherous and
fire did break free of the bush. The existing stubble was
believed we needed to do. Everyone was in agreeance.
working under lights became too dangerous, as the
then turned over, instantly creating a firebreak. In total
It was good to know we were all on the same page with
ground would suddenly turn into sharp drop offs, which
an area 300m wide by 15 kilometres in length, was
were hidden in the darkness.
From the air, it soon became apparent that the bulldozer
With the coming day’s weather forecast weighing on
harvested and ploughed in. The efforts did not stop until 11pm Monday night.
had overshot the turning mark for where it would finally
my mind, I continued to organise things until half past
The second set of dozers, which had been organised
start cutting directly to the fire. The issue was made
midnight, getting home at about 1am. Five hours later
the day before, had hold ups getting on site. The
worse with the poor ability to have any air to ground
I was out of bed. The morning was almost ominously
clearing chain we needed also didn’t arrive. At 11am,
communications from the plane. Once back down I had
still and cool. The only sign of the fire was a few puffs of
we got hold of another chain, which was towed up with
to chase the bulldozer down via vehicle, before getting it
smoke on the horizon.
a farm tractor to where operations base was taking
back on track.
shape. With no dozers, a farm tractor and loader were hooked to the chain. They got going for about
At 5pm, the helicopter came back out again and this time
an hour before a hydraulic hose ripped off by a stick
I went up with Tom Brown and Ash Stewart, updating them
stopped operations in their tracks. By 1pm, one of the
on what was happening. The first bulldozer had only just
chaining bulldozers arrived on site, however the second
reached the fire front at 5pm, so we took the operator up
machine had some issues and had failed to materialise.
in the helicopter to show him where he needed to go.
pg 70 | WILL CARMODY
IMAGE (left): The fire at 6.17am on Tuesday, just before it started to gain momentum. Photographer: Will Carmody All crews continued to work throughout the morning; clearing breaks, harvesting, ploughing, trying to make as much headway as possible before the conditions hit. The forecast was for lighter and later conditions; however the tracking crew radioed in by 10.30am advising that wind had increased significantly and conditions were deteriorating much more rapidly than expected. At 11am I asked Gavin for weather observations. At that time the forecast was for 35 kilometres per hour winds, gusting to 55 kilometres per hour at noon, increasing to 40 kilometres per hour by 3pm. With this forecast, we still felt confident we could achieve a positive outcome â€“ we had fought fires in much worse conditions than this. Little did we know that the weather conditions were going to be much worse. By midday the intensifying wind and heat had created a different beast. The chopper came out from town. As soon as we lifted off, we immediately saw the fire was much worse. We radioed the ICV and told them to evacuate back to the first fall-back position right away.
WILL CARMODY | pg 71
â€œA STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRESâ€? - WILL CARMODY - CONT. Captain of the Cascade Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Will was Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Incident Control Officer with Shire of Esperance at Level 1 fire.
IMAGE (left): Taken just after take off, showing the towering fire front, with vehicles in foreground that were next to the ICV. Photographer: Will Carmody Flames were jumping well above the tree canopy at a height of 30 to 40 metres and the front was on the move, travelling at around 12.6 kilometres an hour.
smoke cloud towered above the front. We flew in under the smoke cloud at about 500 to 700 feet. The turbulence generated by the fire was extreme. The tracking bulldozer had evacuated to a position behind the front, clearing itself and the following fire unit a massive pad on the edge of a lake to shelter on. It was at this point that we knew that the fire was uncontrollable and would breach any of our containment efforts. IMAGE (right): One of the final images taken from the air of the fire front, before it broke clear of bushland. Photographer: Will Carmody From here things started to escalate very quickly. There were a bunch of people and vehicles gathered at the ICV, which was now at the first fall-back position. We immediately advised them to get out of the area. I then called the guys in town and notified them that the fire was now out of control and uncontrollable. We tried to make sure everyone in the area was evacuated.
pg 72 | WILL CARMODY
WILL CARMODY | pg 73
“A STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRES” - WILL CARMODY - CONT. Captain of the Cascade Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Will was Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Incident Control Officer with Shire of Esperance at Level 1 fire.
IMAGE: The fire front as seen from Ayers’ property. Taken shortly after midday on Tuesday, as it was about to emerge from bushland.
pg 74 | WILL CARMODY
Field Road had been our second designated fall-back
Although our efforts hadn’t stopped the fire, what breaks
Later, we found out from a team of guys that had stayed
point, so about half of the sixty-five people attending the
we had got in managed to slow the front down to 11.8
and defended the house at Walter’s property, that as the
fire had gathered there to form a convoy. The fire had
kilometres per hour, until about Belgian Road.
front passed, they had recorded wind speeds of 101 kilometres per hour, a temperature of 43 degrees, with a
well and truly come out of the bush and looked like it
relative humidity of 0.2 percent.
was almost overtaking us. We decided to try moving our
After this point the speed increased to 36 kilometres per
convoy to Rolland Road, sending a couple of guys up
hour until just west of Scaddan. By the time the front
to see whether the road was clear. It was, but with the
hit Scaddan and Kendall Road to the east, the ground
IMAGE (below): Taken by the tracking team as they made
speed of the fire, the tail end of the convoy would not
speed had hit over 50 kilometres per hour.
their way up Rolland Road after the fire front had passed.
make it through before the fire caught up.
Photographer: Paul Carmody.
We took the evacuated people and rest of the convoy around to what was now the western flank of the fire via a longer route, through Belgian and Grass Patch Road. It was as windy and hot as hell. By about 1pm we started running down the western side of the fire, knocking on doors and making sure people evacuated as we went. During the process, I had become concerned for a family that were going back to evacuate three other family members, who were still on a property on Rolland Road. We had advised them that conditions were too dangerous to go back and evacuate. And then we had to keep moving. For the rest of the day thoughts plagued me; I didn’t know if they had continued back to the property, or if the members on the property were safe either. I had no further reports as to any of their whereabouts until later that evening.
WILL CARMODY | pg 75
The next five hours were chaotic and overall, I was just
if the fire closed in from the north, people getting
trying to manage what was going on. We moved down the
evacuated from Grass Patch up to Salmon Gums would
western side with the fire, door knocking and evacuating
have no way out. Once again the failing communications
if people weren’t defending. Once the fire passed, other
made it incredibly difficult to discern where the second
parts of the convoy were coming in behind to try and
fire front actually was. At about 6pm we sent fire crews
help save property or mop up spot fires.
up Rollond Road to protect towards Salmon Gums. However, conditions had moderated and we found other
At 4.20pm we finally got communication through to the
teams were already working up there.
tracking team, who had been cut off from the rest of the fire crews. They had spent the afternoon isolated and
It wasn’t until 8pm that evening that I was advised by
without communication, trying to retrace their route back
good friends that Freddy had died. I was also told of the
out from the pad in the bush they had sheltered on. They
loss of three other lives. I held grave fears that there would
finally joined the rest of the crews around 5 or 6pm, and
be more fatalities. The thought haunted me; I didn’t know
were stunned with what they learnt had occurred.
what the final number would be. At 11pm, I briefed an officer from DFES about the fire and operations that were
By this stage communication was terrible, and we had
being conducted at the time, before eventually making
limited information on where the fire front was. I also
my way back home to the farm.
needed to verify the information that we did have. I sent individual units to scout out and confirm the fire front’s
Around 5am the next morning, I met up with Gavin
exact location and report back. Once they came back
Gibson and we went up for a fly. By air, the vastness of
with the position, we transferred the location onto an area
the fire scar was staggering. In some areas, it stretched
map I had managed to set up. This way we were able to
as far as you could see. The plane was flying at 200
define the fire’s perimeter and infer its movements.
kph, and yet we seemed to continue passing over the devastated tracts of land for an inordinate amount of
During the afternoon, an evacuation point had also been
time. Patches of properties still smouldered and burned,
IMAGE (above & opposite): The agricultural landscape
set up at Salmon Gums Primary School. Approximately
spot fires scattered through massive stretches of blowing
on Wednesday morning, showing the scale and ferocity
150 people were sheltered there, as fires raged to both the
sand and charred paddock. All up, the fire had run 107
of the fire. White areas are paddocks denuded and
north and southwest. I was immediately concerned that
kilometres in length over the course of one day.
already drifting. Photographer: Will Carmody.
pg 76 | WILL CARMODY
We surveyed the fire scar as we went, pinpointing where
By 8am we were back on ground at the corner of Neds
questions from those gathered to assist, as to what we
the head of the fire should be. A few locations had
Corner and Grass Patch Road, which was our rally point
were doing. I advised the guys that I hadn’t been given
managed fire breaks, which had held up as conditions
for the day. From the debriefing the night before, I had
any instructions and to give me some time to come up
had cooled and the fire slowed. It reflected what we had
expected DFES to be there waiting for us, armed with
wanted to do, what our initial goal had been. It showed
detailed maps and orders, so the day’s fighting could
We held a minute’s silence for those that had passed,
the defensive tools being put to work and achieving the
proceed. I was greeted by 162 volunteers ready to fight
before I started the daunting task of briefing the guys
- but no DFES, or maps - to be seen. There were a few
standing in front of me.
WILL CARMODY | pg 77
pg 78 | WILL CARMODY
We had managed to scrape some sort of plan together, working off a sole, rudimentary road map. I had used the map the night before to piece together the track of the fire and show DFES. All the information contained on the map either came from GPS points of the fire I had recorded in the early stages – or word of mouth reports we had gathered from community members after it had run. IMAGE (left): The agricultural landscape on Wednesday morning, showing the scale and ferocity of the fire. White areas are paddocks denuded and already drifting. Photographer: Paul Carmody. IMAGE (right): The rudimentary map, that used community input to track the fire’s location. The firefighting efforts on Wednesday were planned from this map. Photographer: Will Carmody. Armed with this map, we split the surrounding area into five sections. I asked the guys to sort themselves into five even teams, using local knowledge to delineate where people went. If a person knew a certain area, or had mates in that area, they made their way to stand with that group. I briefed them as best as possible, and
concern, but it was brought under control. Our biggest
congestion. Most of the time we were reduced to using
after ending along the lines of ‘go out and be safe’, they
issue though was trying to get communications across.
UHF’s short range and utes to run messages. The
left in their respective groups. Most of the efforts went
Congestion over radios on Tuesday had been severe,
satellite phones were also intermittent and as they came
into mopping up spot fires and starting the enormous
up as a private number, there was no way to return a
clean-up. Roberts Swamp area did prove to be a bit of a
radio communication was still bad due to smoke and
WILL CARMODY | pg 79
â€œA STORY OF TWO BUSHFIRESâ€? - WILL CARMODY - CONT. Captain of the Cascade Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. Will was Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Incident Control Officer with Shire of Esperance at Level 1 fire.
At about 3 or 4pm in the afternoon, teams of investigators arrived from the police and the DFES arson squad. I did a full briefing for them, which was a pretty daunting task, and it got a bit much. My heart sank a lot during those moments. I was offline for the next four days as I worked with the investigators, trying to find the ignition point of the fire. It was Thursday, when using my plotted GPS points, phone photos and the GPS on my IPAD, we flew out to try and locate ground zero. The iPhone and iPad led the investigators to the exact point. Standing in the middle of the bush, in front of the very tree that was struck by lightning and started the entire chain of events, elicited a pretty strange feeling. The investigators felt the same way. The tree was still standing, albeit with a shattered trunk, surrounded by semi intact understorey, associated with the cool burn of a fledgling fire. IMAGE (right): Ground zero composite image. The strike tree that caused the fire. The semi burnt bush around the tree delineates the cold burn of ignition. Within remote bushland, an iPad and GPS were used to walk to and plot the exact location. Photographer: Will Carmody.
pg 80 | WILL CARMODY
I was told that we had done amazingly well to find the ignition point in a levelled bushfire. It had saved the investigators weeks of searching, if they had managed to find it at all. The fact it was found using the technology I carried with me â€“ which as producers we use every day - amazed them. As volunteer firies, it highlighted the level of professionalism that we take with us onto a fire ground. Less than a week after, we braced ourselves once more as a second lot of fires materialised. I was in the police station going through my statement when I received the call. There were suddenly another eight fires to deal with. I remember trying to hurry up and initial pages, so I could get back out and into a plane, as we once again started to regroup to fight and defend. Through the entire fire event, the support from the community was just extraordinary. It has certainly been something that helped me a lot, and it still continues to be. *** Will Carmody is the Captain of the Cascade Bushfire Brigade and has been a member for over 30 years. He is also the Senior Fire Control Officer for Shire of Esperance West Zone 2. Will was the recipient of the 2017 DFES Murray Lang Bushfire Service of WA Award in recognition of his dedicated community engagement activities including annual bushfire presentations for foreign workers in the Cascade region. ***
WILL CARMODY | pg 81
THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS (for our farmers) -Lyndel Taylor
There will come soft rains, and the smell of the ground, The gentle tin roof percussion, a comforting sound. Under rainy night skies frogs will sing a prelude For dawn’s feathered chorus to celebrate a promise made good Eventually green shoots will unfurl from deep in the earth As a fire-ravaged land stages its own rebirth And the monochrome horizon will take up the light And raindrops will fracture into wild colours to delight At farmhouses dedicated hands will conjure up gardens To encircle homes with a refuge from a landscape too large Clear fresh skies of infinite blue Will arc over paddocks rich with grain’s golden hue The headers will roll, keeping chaser bins full And the only evacuation will be to keep cool We will head to the coast feeling okay again Not conflicted by the need to stay and defend We’ll make ourselves busy with fencing and food And the strength of community will help lighten the mood Children on bikes, trailing laughter like kites Will help us to heal, get on with our lives But when old canine friends nudge our hands at the gate We’ll know of their loyalty, and we’ll think of our mate For Nature’s a force we must always respect That lesson we know, we heed it … and yet Her resilience reassures us. Don’t forget, when you’re down There will come soft rains, and the smell of the ground.
pg 82 | THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS
PLOUGHING TO PUT IN FIREBREAKS, IMAGE: ADAM CLARK | pg 83
NATAHNA STONE, SCADDAN Chair of Scaddan School Council since 2013
Although our youngest daughter finished primary school
who may have less to do with the school after their own
They are pleased with the progress and improvements.
in 2016, I’m still on the Scaddan School Council as a
children had graduated.
It was just a little thing that happened which good came
community representative and have been part of the
from, that no-one would ever have thought of.
council through the fire rehabilitation. I’d like to reflect
Both people in the Scaddan community and the children at
on some positive small things that came about after the
the school commented on how lovely it was and although
Since the fire, Scaddan Primary has been fortunate to
2015 fire, particularly those that show the importance of
it was inconvenient, people didn’t mind because of the
have had many generous benefactors both monetarily
the Scaddan school to the Scaddan community.
benefits. It was nice for those collecting their mail to see
and in kind. This has included sizable contributions
the lawn regrowing and the school gardens replanted by
that the school has decided to put towards a nature
One change that was forced due to the fire, was the
the school students. The students themselves took great
playground. During the planning for the new playground,
temporary relocation of the local post office boxes. The
delight in watching out for community members visiting
myself and Hannah Guest went to a nature play building
Scaddan town hall, adjacent to the school and housing
the school grounds. People who may not usually have
conference held by Maggie Dent.
the Australia post annexe, was burnt to the ground. And
had the chance to catch up, would pull up out the front
so, with the loss of the town hall, the community also lost
of the school and stand chatting for a good half an hour.
Maggie had kindly given us tickets and an invitation. It
its post office boxes. A temporary solution was found on
It came at a time when everybody needed to be able to
was heartening for us to see the school council president
say hello to each other.
and teacher from Yarloop also attending the conference.
After the fire and for a period of over twelve months,
The school could see that this was a chance to capture
During the event, Maggie invited us to stand up and
the Scaddan Primary School garden shed became
and involve the community back into the school. So, a
introduced us to the attendees as her guests. We were
the temporary Australia Post outlet. Old shelves were
pin up board placed in the garden shed allowed us to
so surprised when everyone started clapping. It was
repurposed and placed in the garden shed, so that mail
put up the school newsletter and other notices next to the
very humbling. People came to chat to us and relay how
could be sorted into boxes. It was an innovative small
‘postal boxes’. It was a little way in keeping people up to
it was amazing what the school and community were
community solution, that allowed people to collect their
date with what was happening at the school.
doing and how inspiring it was to them.
It’s now back to normal at the school, with the Australia
You never think what you are doing is amazing. Things
People who we didn’t usually see at the school were
Post Annexe relocating out of the gardening shed and into
happen during your life and you have to move forward,
having to drop by. The staff and students thought it was
the new Scaddan Fire Shed. However, the community is
you do what you need to do – you make plans and get
particularly nice to be able to see those community
still invested in the school – they are happy to see the
through it. You never expect that it could resonate so
members that they mightn’t get to see anywhere else, or
grass is growing and the trees are coming back.
positively with others.
post from the school grounds during school hours.
pg 84 | NATAHNA STONE
We were also grateful to have a chance to talk to the
Those that had to stay in town sometimes felt so far away,
The upheaval really made people think about what they
attendees from Yarloop. They had come from a far worse
so the emails and text messages were really needed. It
wanted for the town and their own future. It is very easy for
position than what we were in – with the complete loss of
was completely understandable - the school itself is a
small rural towns like Scaddan to disappear, particularly
the school and the inability to return for 12 months – we
large tie in the community, linking every generation.
after the loss or damage of much of the infrastructure the
were very lucky to only have to spend 3 weeks away from our school.
townsite offers. During the entire period, the kids were incredibly resilient. They went by bus into town everyday, got split up and
This made the community think long and hard about
During those three weeks, we were very well supported.
went to schools they had never been to. The greatest
what they wanted. It’s made us all appreciate how much
Ken Perris, the Department of Education Goldfields
worry for parents are their children, so knowing that the
we value what the town and community give.
Regional Director, along with Department of Education
kids were ok was a huge relief.
Esperance Regional Coordinator Paul Mather, were
Not every town has that opportunity, but Scaddan faced
invaluable. They, with the community alongside, really
Going back to the school after the fire, it was quite
fought for the re-opening of Scaddan Primary, allowing
confronting to see the grounds so bare. The kids however,
the students to return to some normalcy. The school bus
didn’t seem too worried by it and were so happy to
contractors were also fantastic, making room for bus
return. Our teachers were incredible. It was the end of the
flexibility so students could be picked up and dropped
school year and during all of this they were trying to write
off at alternative points. Knowing how government
school reports, practice an end of year concert and still
departments can work and how difficult it can be to make
teach a full program! At one stage, the whole school was
change, I think people really went above and beyond
housed in one old art room at a primary school in town.
it and has done it well.
what was expected. The fire also forced us to implement a detailed bushfire In the weeks that followed the fire, there was a lot of
plan. At the time we didn’t have anything relevant and
liaising with departments and we needed to keep parents
afterwards there were just so many things that we wanted
updated with what was going on. Group text messages
to get right. We have now set in place a comprehensive
and emails meant that most mornings started with texting
plan, which is very specific and tailored to our school’s
the latest developments. Ken Perris was amazing,
requirements. A half day meeting with DFES allowed us
answering calls from 6.30am to 8pm at night. Being busy
to provide feedback that will hopefully assist fire safety
was good though.
for other regional schools.
NATAHNA STONE | pg 85
pg 86 | scaddan primary school, post fire
SCADDAN PRIMARY SCHOOL | pg 87
SCADDAN PRIMARY SCHOOL With input from 2017 Scaddan School Principal, Reece Smith
In many ways, Scaddan Primary School is a miraculous
There have been numerous benefactors to the Primary
The Scaddan Parents and Children Committee have
survivor of the Cascade fire. Although directly within the
School, all likeminded in their efforts to assist the school
been amazing, and very proactive within the recovery
fire’s path at the apex of the blazes ferocity, by some sheer
and community to recover, by enriching the experiences
period. In winter 2016, the P&C organised a get together,
luck the flames managed to loop around the school’s
of the Scaddan children. There have been some quite
where parents and children re-planted new shade trees
thickly vegetated borders, leaving classrooms, oval and
significant direct donations including those from the
along the back of the school oval. The P&C also donated
play equipment virtually untouched. Just twenty metres to
Country Women’s Association Head Office, and the
shade sails, which were erected at the start of 2017.
the east, the town hall and post office annexe were burnt
Gibson CWA. Landmark have also been incredibly
Department funding and CWA donations allowed a fixed
to the ground. Shade trees that ringed the school were
supportive. Other community members have donated
shade structure to be erected at the same time.
reduced to blackened sticks. Yet to the western side the
funds toward specific items, including art supplies and
newly refurbished teachers house suffered nothing more
plants, or have contributed goods in kind.
than a melted air-conditioning pipe and burnt fencing.
In a short period of time, the school grounds have gone from having very little shade for students to play under,
The school’s survival, although unlikely, gave a point of
One of the most philanthropic gestures the school
to a great deal – something vitally important in our sunny
focus in the following rehabilitation period.
received, came from another regional Primary School.
Given the option, Yearling Primary School students Due to the full clean that the school had to undertake
forfeited their own Christmas presents from under their
Possibly the most significant monetary donation has
after the fire, many of the classrooms lost a large amount
Christmas tree. They donated the gifts to the students
come from Hale Boys School, who presented $26,000
of supplies for student activities. Whilst the clean was
at Scaddan, in a very selfless act of good faith and
plus change, to the Scaddan P&C. After a lot of
undertaken, students had to attend school in Esperance.
understanding. The act of kindness was well received by
conversation and numerous ideas on how best to honour
Both Castletown Primary School and Star of the Sea
both parents and students at Scaddan.
the monies, the P&C decided to put the funds towards a
Primary School made room for the Scaddan kids,
new nature playground. The Nature Playground was built
welcoming them with open arms. In a show of solidarity,
Restoring the school’s gardens and surrounds to their
at the end of 2017, with parents taking responsibility for
Scaddan School was cleaned and re-opened just three
former glory has been a high priority for students, staff
different parts of the playground, building them offsite,
weeks after the fire, with students happily returning to
and parents alike. Gardening Australia’s Josh Byrne
before installing them in situ. The playground now
see out the 2015 school year. The ability for the students
visited the site five months after the fire, lending his
includes a rope balance, cubby and mud kitchen. The
to return to an operational and rewarding learning
expertise to the recovery efforts.
Bunnings have also
school viewed the project as a way to once again involve
environment, has been in no small part due to the wider
dug deep and contributed a number of fruit trees to the
parents and the community with the school and promote
communities amazing generosity.
school. The trees were planted as part of Father’s Day
working together, as the tight knit regional community that
activities in September 2016.
pg 88 | scaddan primary school
Engagement with the community has recently extended
A few months after the Scaddan fire, the state was again
to the rejuvenation of the school vision and core values.
in turmoil as fires devastated the community at Yarloop.
School staff worked with parent representatives to update
Like Scaddan Primary, Yarloop School also survived the
the school vision and values into a collectively shared
blaze. The event highlighted that schools are quite often
a safe place during fire events, due to asset protection zones around the buildings.
We believe our schools core values; ‘Pride, Excellence, Respect and Nurturing’, now also integrate the values of
However, the endurance of Scaddan Primary School
the wider community. Because of this strong community
has become something more than just the survival of
influence, the vision has been referred to when dealing
a tangible asset. It has become an embodiment of a
with other areas of recovery, including discussions
region’s spirit. From the ashes that surrounded it, the
around restoration of the Scaddan Country Club. The core
School has grown and prospered to become an even
values have also made their way into a commissioned
stronger part of the community. School numbers reached
mural at the school, that encompasses the ideals as well
a healthy 24 students in 2017.
as the region’s agricultural influences. With the number set to increase over the next few years, Further engagement with the community has resulted in
Scaddan Primary School is set to continue its integral
the reviewing of the Scaddan Primary School Bushfire
role in the fabric of Scaddan society and will provide a
plans. The plan was reviewed at the end of 2015 with
beacon of light through future recovery efforts.
the School Principal and Scaddan Brigade Captain, before once again being carefully reviewed and updated in 2016 with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services. Scaddan School is listed on the Department of Education’s ‘School Bushfire Zone Register’ and has a comprehensive standalone bushfire plan. The school has also been extremely strict in communicating the plan to the Scaddan Community.
SCADDAN PRIMARY SCHOOL | pg 89
SCADDAN SCHOOL CLEAN UP Terry Dunn, Owner Dunnâ€™s Cleaning Service
When we were asked at short notice to arrange the cleanup at the Scaddan Primary School we did not hesitate as the devastation to the area and loss of life hit close to home as we have many clients and personal friends from the area. The clients that we had booked in during this time were more than understanding when asked to postpone their bookings so we could do this job, while our staff were amazing with some starting the day between 2am and 4am to finish early morning work before heading out together for the mammoth task of cleaning up. I think the thing that hit me most was the hard work lost to the gardens and surrounds which have always been so well kept, and also how amazing all of the other local contractors working together and around each other were to get the school up and running as soon as possible. We worked for four days with eight staff including my wife Sharyn who was on long service from her day job. Teachers and admin staff were also amazing in trying to lessen the impact on the children of the school. This is a great school and community!
pg 90 | scaddan primary school CLEAN UP
IMAGE: ADAM CLARK | pg 91
RHONDA MORCOMBE, SCADDAN After coming back to the farm two days after the fire,
Fund, came from far and wide, all over Australia. The
the smell of the smoke continually reminded us of the
fund was set up and monies distributed very quickly with
devastation this fire had caused. The huge feeling of
minimal fuss. They were extremely appreciated, and
sadness for those that had lost their lives, and the sorrow
it was so encouraging. With these funds, plans were
that loved ones were feeling, was at times overwhelming.
quickly put into action to replace and rebuild the garden
Then, hearing the stories of how our neighbours were
and replace water pipes, allowing fruit trees and lawns to
saved just in time, made us feel so grateful and thankful
be revived. I am not sure what others spent their monies
other lives had been spared.
on, but I certainly was very grateful to all who contributed and made it possible for us to have a distraction - and
I was very proud of my community for the way we
at the same time make plans to repair what was lost in
came together to support each other through a very
the fire. Our local Shire was also very supportive helping
difficult time. I had never seen so many people jammed
the Scaddan Community, having meetings and plans put
in the Scaddan Bowling Club and Golf Club Rooms,
together for our new fire shed in the Scaddan townsite.
coming together just to talk and share our experiences. Neighbours called in on each other, to see how one
Today there is still evidence of that catastrophic fire, with
another was faring and generally just drawing breath.
many of our mallee trees showing signs of being burnt beyond revival, but some are reshooting. Our landscape
I was so encouraged by the responses from all the fire
has definitely changed, we can now see through our
brigades in our community. The huge undertaking of
trees to the neighbour’s paddocks.
Blaze Aid camping at Grass Patch for so many months, being there to lend a hand – not just physical help but
A special moment was when the first birds returned after
also moral support – certainly helped ease the difficult
the fire. It had been so silent and desolate without them,
time many were going through.
so it was rather profound when I heard the calls of a Mudlark as I lay in bed early one morning, about four
Donations of hay bales were well received, being used
weeks after the fire. The calls came from up in the big
as temporary wind breaks to stop the sand and dirt from
Tuart near the house that had survived, and were a very
bare paddocks being driven into our houses. The monies
that were donated to those affected through the Mayor’s
pg 92 | RHONDA MORCOMBE, SCADDAN
Image: corrina ridgeway rhonda & shorty morcombe (just before christmas 2015) | pg 93
SHORTY MORCOMBE, SCADDAN We were almost finished with harvest for the year – we
through, I headed straight back up to the farm, getting
did having good insurance. There was a lot of support
had about two days to go, when the fire came through.
back about 2 to 3 hours later. After avoiding the highway
afterwards and it’s hard to remember everyone who
We had had a good run and had not long changed
and coming in the back way we turned onto Leibeck
helped out. Mick Fels lent his seeder to me so I could
paddocks into the last of wheat. That morning we
Road. Going past Mick’s shed – or what was left of it,
sow in a mix of barley and millet in the days immediately
had parked up the headers on the main access road
was the first I saw of how destructive the fire had been.
after the fire.
through the middle of the property, with harvested wheat
I wanted to make use of subsoil moisture (from rain that
all around. I had then sent our workers home and they
I was concerned that Uncle Phil wasn’t ok, and was
had delayed harvest earlier on in the piece), to help
headed back off to Esperance, as I knew our fire gear
relieved when we learnt he had made it through and was
create cover in the paddocks that had protective stubble
wasn’t good enough to fight anything like what was
uninjured. There were still spot fires everywhere and after
burnt away and threatened to lose the topsoil if it started
hearing Phil was fine, we spent all night going around
to blow. In the end, the subsoil moisture that had been a
putting out flare ups.In the end the fire burnt through 95
hindrance a few weeks earlier, turned out to be a blessing
It was then a waiting game as we weren’t exactly sure
percent of the farm, finishing the 295 ha of wheat we
in disguise and we had a great germination creating a
where the front was. From where I was on the property,
had left to harvest. Everything bar 40 hectares of canola
thick cover. I sowed crop earlier than usual in 2016 in an
I could see back west towards Scaddan, looking over
stubble was burnt. We lost a shed and the shearing shed.
effort to stop the topsoil shifting. We also put a bit more
Leibeck’s property, towards Uncle Phillips place which
Nitrogen on than usual, just to help get everything back
lays along Kendall Road. At that stage, I had tried to call
Machinery wise we were fortunate, losing one header,
Uncle Phil on the two-way as I knew he had gone back
bins, augers and the super 70 bin tractor - which was
in there. I had seen him driving around on his property,
actually a good bin tractor and a bit of a fixture here.
On the plus side, it’s actually good to give the paddocks
but try as I might, I couldn’t get hold of him. The first I
There were other smaller losses as well, including
a burn every so often. The fire has helped with better
saw of the front was a red glow. The red stretched all the
equipment, tools and fencing. The entire house yard was
grass control and knocked the snails around a bit as
way along the horizon from end to end. The entire sky
burnt as well, including mum’s garden and fruit trees.
well. Due to the clean-up, it’s been a good chance to
was just black, with this red glow and a dark eerie feel
The house wasn’t touched.
push out more dead trees too. Refencing is next and
The biggest loss really was the shearing shed. Its
planting trees will follow in the next few years. I reckon it’ll
Next thing, it was going up over Phil’s place. I could tell
demise made the decision for us regarding ever running
take another couple of years of work before everything
from the wind direction that it was headed my way, so
sheep again in the future. The fire also meant we had a
is addressed. There’s still unexpected little reminders,
that’s when I left. I took a back access track off the farm,
big clean up, one of those things that you usually never
scars and things that have gone missing – either from
with the fire front bearing down onto Leibeck Road, and
get around to because of other priorities. Being so far
being burnt or pushed in a hole. They will probably
headed for Esperance. After we knew the fire had passed
through with harvest made a big difference as well – as
continue to remind us for a long while yet.
pg 94 | SHORTY MORCOMBE, SCADDAN
on track and replace any we had lost.
Image: corrina ridgeway shorty with mother rhonda, december 2015, in a paddock that was resown just 2 days after the fire | pg 95
pg 96 | SHORTY MORCOMBE, SCADDAN
Shortyâ€™s Super 70 bin tractor still sits in the position it burnt, a reminder of the fire.
Image: corrina ridgeway | pg 97
MICK LEIBECK, SCADDAN Like many farmers, the Tuesday morning of the fires
Liebeck Road. By the time I got there the sky was black.
found me in the paddock early, harvesting away on our
It was eerie. The wind was howling, and there was so
southern block. It was around 9.30am when notification
much smoke everywhere there was no way to tell where
Soon after mum and dad left, Oskar and Paul Ryan, our
of a harvest ban came through, so we proceeded to pull
the fire was.
employee, turned up with another fire unit, so we set to
up for the day. As I hopped down from the cab, I noticed that it was already hot for the time of day.
situation.) There was no huge panic at that stage.
watering the house down. I pulled up out front before walking into the darkened house, only to find both mum and dad still inside. The
We hadn’t started harvest at the home block, so there
At about 10.30am Gav Egan, the Scaddan Bushfire
landlines were out, and there was no power. But Mum
was only the one header front up that way. I told Oskar
Brigade Captain, called me. Gav relayed that the fire out
was standing at the stove cooking tea and Dad was
and Paul to remain calm, and we would go retrieve the
at Cascade was looking like it could get really nasty.
sitting in his usual chair. It was surreal. Everything was
front. We hooked it up to the ute and towed it out of the
He asked me to be on standby and ready to assist. Still
carrying on as per a normal day. I wasted no time telling
paddock to safety.
on the south block, we put the machines on the dam
them that they had to get out of there, that it wasn’t safe.
catchments out of harms way before staying on there for the rest of the afternoon.
The air was now choked with smoke, but there was not a While I was there my mobile rang twice in quick
flame in sight. We still couldn’t tell exactly which way the
succession; one call was from Nigel Norwood, the other
fire was coming from.
At around 3.30pm, my son Oskar, received several text
was from Gav. I put it on speaker and sat it on the table,
messages from the Curnow boys. They relayed that
so mum and dad could fully understand the situation.
Mindful of Oskar’s safety, I told him to head south for
the fire was ‘bigger than Ben Hur.’ The boys advised
Gav was pretty concerned. He said the fire was out of
home. Paul and I would stay on. Oskar wasn’t keen on
Oskar that they had already been evacuated and that he
control, and that we needed to ‘get out of there right now,
leaving, but I finally convinced him to head off. He left,
should get ready to as well.
it has just gone through the Scaddan Primary School.’
with his last words to me being, ‘just don’t burn dad.’
He urged us to gather anything valuable and leave for It was then that I tried to call my folks. Mum and Dad
still lived up at our home block, which was out along
I parked the ute and fire unit on Liebeck Road, just outside mum and dad’s house, while Paul went into the work
Liebeck Road, but try as I might I couldn’t seem to get
I managed to grab a big box of photos and four pictures
shed across from the house to shift some stuff around. A
hold of them. Out of what seemed like pure instinct I
off the wall, then got mum and dad out of the house and
couple of neighbours went past, all heading south. The
decided to head up, and see, whether for some reason
on their way. As they left, I unchained dad’s old dog
next thing there were flames everywhere. I called Paul on
they hadn’t gotten the warnings, and they were still at
Charcoal, and chucked him in the back of dad’s ute.
the two-way and told him to get out. The whole place was
home. Following my gut feeling, I started to head towards
(Later on I realised how well the dog’s name reflected the
about to go up.
pg 98 | MICK LEIBECK, SCADDAN
There was thick bush and a heavy barley crop to the west side of Liebeck Road and a heavy wheat crop to the east side, so there was plenty of fuel. The flames were heading east, coming towards us. We could just see that the southerly change was finally coming in, as the smoke up high was starting to head north. (Image opposite). The fire was just violent. It had the devil in it, it was so angry. Within the same instant, it was igniting crop and bush 800 metres ahead of the actual fire front. It wasnâ€™t even properly in the bush around the house before it had jumped Liebeck Road, at the front of the house, and had belted into Rhonda and Shorty Morcombeâ€™s property. (See image page 100) I rang Shorty and told him to get the hell out, but luckily he had already gone out by a back way. The flames finally got into the bush directly west of the house. The heat was so intense, that we were forced to retreat south down Liebeck road. All we could do was sit and watch as the house and sheds burned. (See image page 101)
MICK LEIBECK, SCADDAN | pg 99
pg 100 | mick leibeck, SCADDAN
Image: mick leibeck
| pg 101
MICK LEIBECK, SCADDAN - CONT. Realising there was nothing more we could do I made
We bumped into a few more neighbours on the road
The grim reality of what had happened was overwhelming.
tracks back to ‘Rainbow Hill’. There was fire to the south
putting out spot fires, but there wasn’t much more we
We were all lost. We didn’t know what to do or what to
west of us and at that stage we weren’t sure if it was
could do in the dark. We finally called it a day and
believe. The thought of what happened to those who
another front. Later on I found out that it had been a
headed back to ‘Rainbow Hill’.
didn’t make it, and then looking at mum and dad, in their
second fire that had broken off into Bostock Reserve.
late 70’s, who had lost everything but the clothes on their For the entire afternoon, my phone had just kept going
backs, was confronting. Mum and dad had their lives. I
I got home only to realise that dad had gone back up
off. It was only when I got back home, that I realised I
was thankful I came back up when I did, as I have no
that way. I did a quick about turn and went to check he
must have had about fifty missed calls and messages
doubt that they wouldn’t have made it otherwise.
was okay, only to find him parked up on Yates Road, with
from people who were trying to get hold of me. As I was
a few fire units, quietly watching proceedings.
looking through them, one message in particular stuck
out. It was from a good friend. As the fire had now moved through, we decided to head
The next day was highly emotional, as I felt both loss of a
back up to the home block. We arrived to find the house
The message simply said, ‘ring Stink, they need you.’
good mate who everyone loved, tried to comprehend the
was fully ablaze. Half the engine and store shed was
I had the most horrible feeling.
loss of three people I didn’t know, and came to terms with
already gone. There were spot fires in the shearing shed,
the demise of the family home. The events felt unreal.
which we eventually managed to put out. Soon after dad
We were all still in shock after having to tell mum her
These things only happened on the news, somewhere
headed back to ‘Rainbow Hill.’ The reality had started to
house and everything in it was gone. I didn’t want to
else, not in my community.
set in. Everything was gone.
entertain the thought that worse was to come. I did some work in Bostock Swamp with the loader, where
We drove up the road and checked on Shorty and
I rang my mate who’d sent the message. He just reiterated,
fire was still burning, but the overall feeling of the day
Rhonda Morcombe’s place, then called into Phil
‘You need to ring Stink. There’s been an accident up on
was disbelief. At the same time, the whole place was
Morcombe’s property and saw Phil, who was ok. There
Grigg Road with Freddy.’ He didn’t elaborate on it. I felt
abuzz with people who had come to help.
were numerous spot fires, and burnt fences and power
sick to my stomach.
poles lay everywhere. At about 8pm while driving along
The amount of helpers from Esperance, and beyond,
Kendall Road, I collected a fallen power line, which
Once again I picked up my phone, this time ringing Stink.
was just remarkable. They included other local farmers,
nearly tipped the ute over, and jack knifed the water cart.
He could only just get out what had happened. Paul and
rural businesses, firies, close friends, and other people
It was at that stage that we finally started to comprehend
I immediately drove up to Grigg Road, where we came
just running food around, or helping with whatever they
the devastation that we would face in the daylight.
across the two vehicles.
could. There were ute-loads of pies and drinks.
pg 102 | mick leibeck, SCADDAN
Image: corrina ridgeway | pg 103
MICK LEIBECK, SCADDAN - CONT. The whole community had come together and the help
letters from during the war between nan and pop, photos
The wind erosion looked a lot worse than what it was
was second to none. Offers of assistance and donations
of mum and nan as a child, and numerous other family
though, as all the wheat and barley heads left acted as a
came from people we didn’t even know. Blaze aid in
keepsakes; all pieces with their own stories and history.
bit of cover. A lot of people did some ripping and seeding
particular, were unbelievable, as well as local contractors
To this day I still think of more things that have been lost.
straight after but we opted to leave it, as it had been
that assisted with the cleanup.
unharvested. It’s strange how things work out though. Looking at the
We, along with many others, still had a lot of crop to get
farm after the fire, took me back to memories as a kid,
Mum and dad are now happily relocated in a nice home
off. But no one cared. I don’t think the header moved for
aged about three, when dad had first cleared the block.
in Esperance. Mum has wanted to retire by the coast in
a week, as everything came to a standstill. Everything
It turns out, that on top of the box of photos that I had
Esperance for many years, although this wasn’t quite the
was so emotional and absorbing. It took two weeks, in
grabbed as we left the house was the album containing
way I had anticipated them leaving the farm. It’s still just
between countless phone calls and talking to mates,
the pictures of those early years on the farm.
a little bit sad for me, seeing all that remains of the family
before we gradually returned to some sort of normal routine, and harvest properly recommenced.
home is the pad it stood upon. As we move forward, and with all things considered, the place now looks a million dollars. The trees and scrub
But, I am also eternally grateful that I am fortunate
It was hard to know where to start with the cleanup, but it
has steadily come back, and the landscape continues
enough, to still have mum and dad.
soon proved easier than expected. About eighty percent
to recover. Luckily, we had a good season coming
of everything was beyond saving and went straight into
back off the fire to put cover back on the paddocks.
a hole. Mum and dad had come home the day after the
The insurance companies were second to none with
fire, and it was devastating for them see the destruction.
their assistance and quickly got stuck into the rebuilding
Not even a knife and fork was salvageable. I found a
effort. There have been considerable improvements to
couple of mum’s rings that were ok, but everything else
the place, including new sheds, and power poles that
was melted and twisted beyond recognition.
have been relocated outside of paddocks.
For me, it wasn’t that the house had gone that was
A few trips around the paddocks also yielded something
so overwhelming. The hardest thing was losing the
a bit different to the usual. Old tools and parts that had
memories that went with it. Mum and dad had made it
been lost years ago (some that I could remember losing);
their home for forty years. It was our first family home,
the darkened metal standing out on paddocks’ dune like
and all of us kids had grown up in it. The house had held
surfaces, which were blown bare by the wind.
pg 104 | mick leibeck, SCADDAN
Image: corrina ridgeway | pg 105
DAVID MILLS Gibson Bushfire Brigade member for 27 years and acted as a Fire Control Officer for Gibson during the 2015 fires.
As a volunteer member of the Gibson Bushfire Brigade
I headed straight round to the shed and like the afternoon
soon as possible. You need to cease harvesting. Please
the 2015 fire event started on Sunday 15th November,
before, I drove Gibson 4.4 out to the fire, manned with
let your neighbours know.’ Again, I headed straight to the
after lightening from passing storms ignited several fires
the same brigade members. We got to the fire at about
fire shed, meeting up with the same two crew and once
in the region.
quarter to one and were directed to a paddock on Dave
again manning Gibson 4.4, with myself in the driver’s
Johnson’s farm. We watched for hop overs, putting
At about midday on Sunday, I received a text message
anything out that came over, until it was finished and safe
from the fire phone. The message was about the fires at
to move on.
Merivale. I got another warning message close to 3pm,
We were on scene by 12.30pm and directed to a rendezvous point at Annie’s Lane. By 1.10pm however,
then about ten minutes later a third message asking,
We then helped another crew with backburning which
we had to make a hasty retreat from that area, as the
‘those available to meet at the shed.’ I headed straight to
allowed the fire to be brought under control. Around
fire was coming over the sandy hills. We were directed
the shed to get ready to fight the fire.
6.30pm we left the farm to return to the shed. Before I
back to Stockyard and tasked to wait, whilst other crews
got home I had received a weather forecast notification
continued door knocking the area. Our other fire truck
I loaded into Gibson 4.4, one of our two fire trucks, with
message from the shire. It had basically read that ‘bad
Gibson 2.4 was with us, and Gibson 1 our light tanker
two other brigade members. We headed out to Merivale
weather was coming on Tuesday and there may possibly
driven by Blake Halford arrived shortly after but was
Road and were then directed to a farm on the north side,
be a harvest ban.’
having problems with overheating. We waited for about
arriving around 3.30pm. We were met with a small fire,
an hour, and as we were sitting there, I heard chatter
so waited for the dozer to turn up and run a break around
Tuesday dawned, and by late morning the weather
about sending trucks from Mount Howick up to a fire
the fire’s edge.
forecast was realised. Over the course of the day,
about 30km from Cascade.
temperatures would hit 46 degrees, with gale force A few trucks from other brigades were already in
winds averaging 105km/hour. The relative humidity for
At about 3.30pm we left, and Blake radioed Fire Control
attendance as well. After about two and a half hours,
the day was just four percent. The FDI (Fire Danger
Officer Tom Parkins, suggesting that we attend the
it was pretty much under control, so we radioed in to
Index) would be factored at 250 for that Tuesday. To put
Cascade Fire, whilst Mount Howick take our place at the
Tom Parkins, who stood us down. We returned to Gibson
this into perspective, the Victorian Black Saturday fires
Stockyard fire. It made sense, due to the shorter distance
Bushfire Brigade Shed before heading home for the day.
that claimed 173 lives in 2009, had previously held the
we had to travel to Cascade, and the fact that the Mt
highest FDI recorded in Australia of 180.
Howick units would have to pass our location to attend
At quarter past twelve the next day, I received a message
the Cascade fire anyway. Tom considered everything
once again asking who was available, as the Gibson
At 11.45am I received a message from the fire phone
before deciding. Blake then advised me that he had
brigade may have to return to the Merivale fire.
stating ‘Both trucks need to go to Stockyard Road as
come back saying that it made sense, and we were
pg 106 | DAVID MILLS
going up to attend. We pumped up our tyres before
tail, reaching along and up into the sky. They were
road before we went past. Then they turned around,
heading back up to Gibson.
probably 20 or 25m high. In those few moments,
pulled in behind us and followed us out.
it was hard to tell the depth of the fire, but the speed We stopped shortly in Gibson, blowing out radiators as
was frightening. The sound was absolutely deafening.
We headed back to the highway as fast as possible. I
the vehicles were struggling with the heat, refuelling and
Most people describe it as the roar of a freight train. We
had no idea where the fire was in relation to us exactly,
checking everything over. I departed the shed in Gibson
couldn’t hear the noise of the truck running because of
as I was concentrating solely on navigating due to the
4.4, followed a few minutes behind by Gibson 2.4, and
the howling wind and roaring fire.
smoke and darkness. The visibility was so bad, I was
then Blake and crew in Gibson 1 brought up the rear. To
hanging over the steering wheel looking down at the
this day I can’t remember whether we were told to take a
In the cab, we had a very quick conversation between the
road to catch glimpses of the white lines and touching
certain route up to Cascade. In any case, I know where
three of us, about whether we would continue up Grigg
the gravel edge. It was the only way to stay on the road.
Cascade is, and I do remember hearing on the radio
Road to Dalyup Road North or whether it was possible
that the fire was via Grigg Road. It took about an hour
to turn around the 4WD truck, which carried 4000 litres
The heat was intense and so dry that somehow, we
drive from Stockyard Road, before we were turning left up
of water. At that stage the fire was still running along the
weren’t even sweating. One of my crew told me that the
Grigg Road. I was still driving the lead vehicle.
side of the road.
door to the cab on his side was getting hot. The front was very close to us and I could still barely see in front of the
The drive down Grigg Road was in strong wind and thick
The decision was made extremely quickly. We would turn
cab of the truck.
smoke that obstructed our view. Suddenly we hit clear
around. I proceeded to turn the truck around and was
air and saw the fire front. Strangely enough, we know the
going through the three-point turn, when the truck stalled
My crew told me to put my foot flat to the floor. I replied
exact time we saw the front, as one of the crew members
dead. I hastily re-started the vehicle and got the vehicle
that my foot was flat to the floor, but we were barely doing
had his phone out, and it read 4.13pm. In Blake’s later
around heading back down Grigg Rd for the highway.
60kph and keeping ahead of the front. I couldn’t work out
terminology, it was like ‘going through the gates of hell.’
This moment gets mentioned every now and again at the
why we weren’t moving faster with a tail wind until later,
The fire was only about 300 metres north of us, travelling
fire shed, and has earnt me the occasional nickname of
when I realised that it was the oxygen deprivation caused
from the right-hand side and heading ESE.
‘Turnaround Dave’ or ‘Dave 180’.
by the fire. The fire was literally choking the engine as it used the oxygen to burn.
We could see the flames as soon as we came out of the
We had travelled back about a kilometre when we saw
smoke. It was out in the paddock, reaching towards the
Gibson 2.4, about 200m in front of us. I was straight on
About five minutes after we turned around, I saw Gibson
bush on the right-hand side of the road. About a dozen
the UHF telling them to turn around. I can’t remember
1 stopped at the intersection of Grigg Road and Lover’s
fire devils were spread throughout the fire from front to
them responding but I saw them pull off the side of the
Lane. I told Blake over the UHF that he needed to turn
DAVID MILLS | pg 107
DAVID MILLS - CONT. Gibson Bushfire Brigade member for 27 years and acted as a Fire Control Officer for Gibson during the 2015 fires.
around and that it wasn’t safe. Gibson 1 then pulled in
whilst the smoke cleared a bit and the fire head went
and checked in with the Stone’s to see if they were ok. It
behind Gibson 2.4 and followed us back to the highway.
through. About ten minutes later Pink Lake 3.4 turned up
was then that we were told Freddy’s ute had been found
at the intersection as well. By 5pm we decided to go
on the side of Grigg Road, but they couldn’t find Freddy.
I sometimes think about how I had the decision to turn
back into Scaddan and save what we could. We were
around or keep on continuing up Grigg Road, which at
the only ones there and weren’t getting direction, so we
We then left Stone’s place, heading up to Lover’s Lane.
that point still looked plausible. In hindsight I know that
may as well be useful.
It was around 7.30pm that I heard Pink Lake 3.4 use the Bushfire radio to ask DFES to call regarding something
it turned out to be the right choice, but it still gives me pause, when I think of how the outcome could have been
We all headed back up the highway to Kendall Road
important. It was that call that put the puzzle together for
so much worse. How much weight one decision held.
then turned right down Kendall Road, except for Gibson
me. I assumed that unfortunately it wasn’t good news
During the heat of the moment though, you are focussed
2.4, who had turned off prior to do something else. We
and they had found Freddy.
and don’t have time for other thoughts. And having a
then drove to the Scaddan School, Hall and Country
good team around you to bounce things off makes
Club area, rendezvousing at the school and getting out
I kept driving around looking for things to fix, as we still
everything that much better.
to have a look around. There was nothing left of the hall.
hadn’t had any direction. Running out of things, we
Andrew, who was driving Pink Lake 3.4, said the power
decided to head up to Grigg Road as assumed that’s
As we headed to the highway, I could hear Blake on
poles were burnt and lines were down over the railway
where Pink Lake 3.4 were. We got to Grigg Road just after
the Bushfire Radio, strongly suggesting that they should
track. He proceeded to make calls advising Western
8pm and found Pink Lake 3.4 and Gibson 2.4 at the site
evacuate Scaddan straight away. When we reached the
Power and also to try and halt trains. It was then a matter
of Freddy’s vehicle. It was then that I was told Freddy
intersection of Grigg Road and the highway we stopped,
of finding stuff alight and putting it out.
hadn’t made it.
the cab, about which way to head. We decided to head
Pink Lake stayed near the school and hall area, whilst
We stayed for a while but there wasn’t anything we could
south on the highway and were followed by Gibson 2.4.
we went up to the country club. The corner of the Country
help with. We headed up to check on another property,
At that stage Gibson 1 went to evacuate the teacher at
Club was burnt, the kitchen was on fire and it was getting
but nothing was happening there and so headed back
up into the roof. It took at least thirty minutes to extinguish
to where Gibson 2.4 still waited. After checking in with
it and make it safe.
everyone, we decided it was better to be on our way and
and there was another short conversation between us in
make the trip home.
Visibility on the highway was much better, with minimal smoke, so I was able to travel more sedately. At about
At a bit past six, I once again rang my wife who drives
4.40pm both of our trucks stopped at Speddingup Road
a bus for Scaddan Primary and let her know the school
I got no more than 200 metres down Grigg Road when
West and I called my wife. We waited with Gibson 2.4
was still standing. After that we went up to Raszyk Road
on the road side, I saw the underside of an aluminium
pg 108 | DAVID MILLS
tool box sticking up in the air. We then noticed that it
I continued to fight fires from Wednesday until Monday
was another vehicle, so we stopped the truck and after
the 23rd November. Not long after we had finally found
confirming it was a vehicle and horse float, I called the
the end of our own fires, I headed up to Boddington. For
Esperance Police Station. We realised that unfortunately
four days, I assisted as a volunteer in the aftermath of the
there was at least one other fatality on that road. We
were asked for someone to stay with the vehicle until the Detectives attended.
With the amount of help we got from over there, there was no reason why I wouldn’t return the favour. Besides, we
Meanwhile I could hear over the radio that the trucks
are volunteer fire fighters – the name really says it all.
needed to recrew as the fire was still burning elsewhere. A bit past 9pm our brigade Secretary and Treasurer
On a lighter note, a few months after the fire we found
Danny Smith called me, asking after my location as he
ourselves at Esperance Primary School in the Gibson 4.4
was going to come out. He arrived a short time later with
tanker, showing some very enthusiastic school children
fresh crew for the trucks. Blake’s dad Jeff also arrived,
how the vehicle worked. Our President at the time, Cody
with further crew. The decision was made for me to stay
Governs, had two daughters attending the school. When
on the scene.
asked what their parents did for jobs, the girls very proudly dobbed him in with ‘My dad is a fire fighter’. The
Gibson 4.4 recrewed and left, whilst my two-remaining
brigade was then asked if they could come in and have
crew left about quarter past nine. Danny stayed with me
a chat to the kids. We made sure that all the lights, sirens
for a while, but for the large part of that time I was by
and hoses got a workout.
myself. I didn’t get close to the vehicle or the float, as I didn’t really want to look.
The Bushfire Brigade received a hand made card saying thank you from the kids, which is now displayed with
Finally, at 10.30pm the Detectives arrived from Esperance
pride at the Gibson Bushfire shed.
and the SES arrived not long after. I spoke with them, and then started to make my way home a bit before midnight, taking Blake’s ute back. I arrived back at the shed and went home shortly after.
DAVID MILLS | pg 109
pg 110 | DAVID MILLS
DAVID MILLS | pg 111
pg 112 | IMAGE: ADAM CLARK
Image: ADAM CLARK | pg 113
GEOFF CLOSE Lieutenant, Esperance Volunteer Fire and Rescue
My involvement with the Esperance fires revolved mainly
Power lines hung down across paddock and road, and
I remember that there was one backpacker on board the
around the Merivale blaze, as well as a large amount
what was left of the poles lay burnt on the ground. Houses
bus who was very nervous about crossing the front. I tried
of clean up and recovery in the weeks that followed.
and a few sheds were piles of smouldering mess. The
to settle her nerves by addressing everyone on board.
Because of the vast reach and huge effect that the fires
signs were melted and twisted into nothing. Sand from
I let them know it was not a bad situation and they just
had, for me everything is a jumble of different times,
a paddock that was burnt bare, had been blasted
had to trust me – we had about six metres of head fire
tasks and locations. To this day, I am still remembering
across the highway by the wind, and now covered the
then black ground behind the fire, and it would all be
bits and pieces that I had forgotten had occurred, as
road burying it completely. The white sand and the burnt
safe as houses.
people’s conversations continue to jolt my memory.
blackness was so foreign, that it was like being on the moon.
I will start out on Wednesday morning, when I was asked
We got back without issue, except for one vehicle in the convoy that kept stopping to take photos of the
to go up with the convoy to Grass Patch and Salmon
We made our way on to ‘Truslove’ where the fire front was
devastation. This caused a bit of grievance, as every
Gums, to retrieve people and provide escort for a large
still burning on either side of the road. The head fire was
time the vehicle stopped, all travelling behind them
number of vehicles that had been stopped in their tracks.
five to ten metres wide and was still very much an active
stopped, which meant I had to pull up as well. As we
Both travellers and residents had been trapped in the
fire. But it was still traversable, so we drove through it and
were trying to keep the convoy tight, I would then have to
towns after the main highway and surrounding roads
out into the smoke.
radio the light tanker and let them know ‘we’ve stopped
had been cut off by the fire front the day before. I found
again.’ And so, it would pull the entire convoy up.
myself in the driver’s seat of the bus before sunrise and
On reaching Grass Patch people were picked up from
headed up the highway towards Scaddan.
the pub, whilst the school oval served as the evacuation
The aim was to keep the convoy moving and back
point in Salmon Gums.
safely to Esperance. After a few brief words to the driver,
The first bit of the trip up to Scaddan wasn’t too bad, the
explaining that the next time they stopped, my front
surrounding’s being untouched by the fire. Once we hit
We ended up with four travellers in the bus, plus a
bumper may just keep on travelling forwards, we drove
the townsite it was a different story. I can’t truly explain
considerable number of cars in the convoy. Most people
to Esperance without any more hold ups.
how eerie and surreal it was to cross into the fire scar. The
had been waiting at the evacuation sites since Tuesday
smoke cleared away, and it was a war zone. There was
morning, but everyone was pretty calm, and it was all
The next few weeks turned into a blur. Every day ran
shit everywhere, trees burnt and snapped and hurled
quite orderly. The escort was headed by a light tanker
together until it was one and the same. I was moved
over the road. All that remained of other trees were black
and I brought up the tail in the bus, with all the cars and
around to do whatever was needed, wherever that may
and white ash shadows on the bitumen, where they had
caravans lined up in between.
be. Sometimes you started at lunch and finished at 2am.
dropped and burnt to nothing.
pg 114 | GEOFF CLOSE
A lot of us were doing 20 hours a day or more.
Some days we were out patrolling for hot spots. Another
The way the community pulled together throughout
a huge Banksia tree seemed to be casually sliding
day I ended up on a CALM truck as they were short of
those weeks was awesome. People were calling into the
towards us. We did a bit of a double take at the sight of
crew. We were also sent back up to Lort River Bin as the
co-location shed just asking what they could do, from
this tree ‘walking’ our way, before I realised it was Adrian
fire had gotten into the river system, so I was on night
making sandwiches to collecting stuff around town. It
in the dozer, probably having a giggle at our reaction to
shift for a bit up there as well, assisting with the mop
gave a real sense of camaraderie.
his unexpected entrance!
in sheds which required BA gear, as well as assisting
My son Rory, was also with me most of the time. He
Another noteworthy bulldozer event was the altercation
with the extraction of those that had passed away. We
was probably the youngest registered fire fighter on the
between media and heavy machine. We were waiting
spent time following machines as support crew, doing
ground at the time, just out of the youth brigade. He spent
to head into Myrup Fly in Estate, when a poorly located
fire surveillance in the dune systems and even delivering
time helping in the co-location facility, as well as time out
media vehicle that had been asked to shift off the fire
food to the people on ground.
on the grounds actively fighting and defending.
ground, found itself on the receiving end of the bulldozer.
The State Emergency Service were great, flat out just
When the Merivale fire did its run north, both Rory and
The dozer came off the float, sliding side-ways and
doing food runs. In the early stages they didn’t have
I were called in to do asset protection at the Goldfields
landing partially on the car that was parked beside it.
enough vehicles, so we assisted in the deliveries
and Fisheries Road intersection. We were deployed to
A few minutes later I was standing there looking at it
wherever we could.
the Gun Club and Football Club. I still remember taking
when the 000-incident call came through from the DFES
my level 1 fire gear off and putting on my level 2 gear
communications centre in Perth.
up. We did some chemical jobs; cleaning up chemical
Other parts of days were spent helping efforts back at the
and getting set up for the front to come through. I turned
co-location shed, where there was a huge supply chain
to Rory who was with me and said to him, ‘Mate, this is
I was advised there had been an incident with a bulldozer
churning out enough food to feed an army. There was so,
where it gets real. We are going to be in front of the fire –
and a vehicle, and could we get responders to the scene
so much food and so many people to feed – probably
it will be coming straight at us.’ It was absolutely full on.
immediately. I told the lady that we were there already.
around 150 people combined - and all of it was being
After the front had cleared through, we pulled out and
She was a bit incredulous and said that I couldn’t be. So,
made and supplied from the co-location shed. Food was
went chasing it into the top of the lake, acting as support
I advised her that I was standing there looking at, with fire
even weighed and packed for deliveries that went by
crew for the bulldozer.
trucks and gear around me. She told me that it was the
chopper, right up to the northern fire grounds. The fifteen-
fastest turnout to a call they’d ever had! It served a good
minute chopper journey was a much quicker delivery
At one stage we were out at Windabout Lake boat ramp,
method than the one and a half to two hour drive.
waiting for the bulldozers to turn up. We sat and waited
reminder why fire grounds are off limits areas…
for a bit, expecting to see the dozer. The next thing I knew,
GEOFF CLOSE | pg 115
GEOFF CLOSE - CONT. Lieutenant, Esperance Volunteer Fire and Rescue
It was good to be able to find some lighter moments in
The huge timber dominated how the burns were done.
between all the craziness of running between two fires.
Other guys went along tapping on trees to ascertain
A lot of the time on the fire ground was spent dealing
whether they were hollow ‘stags’ that would harbour fire.
with various obstacles. The Merivale fire proved to have
If so they were marked and pushed over.
its own set of challenges, particularly within the dunes and lake systems. Light trucks were the only vehicles
The value of local knowledge is one of the first things
capable of accessing the dunes without it becoming
you learn when you train as a firefighter and without it
we wouldn’t have known the safest, most effective way to assist.
Wind conditions within dunes are also difficult to predict. The wind could be blowing one direction in one location
My lasting impression of the fires will always be Scaddan
– but a few hundred metres away may have veered
townsite on that Wednesday morning. I can still see it
due to being funnelled by dune structures. Winds were
now, as clearly as if it were yesterday. Driving through
blustery as it was, and a flank fire in the morning could
and seeing the utter destruction.
become the head fire just hours later. We spent a lot of time watching the ribbons of tape that we tied onto
I have been fighting fires for about 15 years and I had not
the ute antennas, which quickly showed us the wind
seen destruction on that scale before. And I hope that we
direction. The grounds around lakes were challenging
never have to see it again.
for machinery as well, and local knowledge was very important in getting anything done. This had been reinforced just months earlier, when part of the brigade went to assist at the Boddington fires. After doing asset protection we were tasked with backburning. We were instructed to black out (burn) 100 metres in and 10 metres up, which is a completely different method to what we use in Esperance.
pg 116 | GEOFF close
Image: geoff close, with son rory | pg 117
VICTORIA BROWN Shire of Esperance President (2015 - Present)
On Tuesday 17th November 2015, I had been President
an eerie light and the atmosphere was threatening and
I had to remain calm, focused and deal with each
of the Shire of Esperance for just four weeks. By the end
foreboding. There wasn’t a drop of moisture in the air and
incident as the situation unfolded. The media calls,
of that devastatingly horrendous day and the week that
my first thought was “Oh, hell. This does not look good.”
interviews and engagements were relentless.
followed I can recall thinking, “This wasn’t in the job
Everything escalated pretty quickly after that. By the time I
description. Shouldn’t I be kissing babies’ heads and
reached the Department of Fire and Emergency Services
Being married to the Chief Bushfire Control Officer was a
judging sponge cakes?” Life throws us curveballs and
offices with the CEO, Matthew Scott and Deputy Shire
bonus, but it also meant that we were both off the family
they test our mettle, spirit and resilience. Our community
President, Cr Natalie Bowman later that afternoon, the
farm. We had left a harvest team of two experienced farm
was thrown into the deep end that November when
maps showed two separate fires. One out at Cascade,
workers and four young men all under twenty three, three
dry lightning strikes on Sunday November 15th ignited
north-west of Esperance, and other to the east, and very
of whom had never done a harvest on an Australian
multiple fires over the Shire, two with disastrous results.
near to town, at Merivale.
farm, and certainly with no understanding or experience
The reaction to the onslaught, and the way we handled
of bushfires. To give my full attention to the job my first
it with the help of so many individuals, organisations,
I remember studying the vast area of burnt farmland on
priority was to make sure everyone at home was safe
the whiteboard and listening to the reports of vast crop
and knew exactly what to do in the event of the fires
and stock losses coming in, and thinking “At least we
reaching them. We told them all to stay put at the farm
haven’t lost a life”, but by the end of the day the worst
and put the fire plan into action, and to be prepared to
I knew that Tuesday 17th was going to be a shocker from
case scenario had occurred, and Freddy, Tom, Anna
gather in the middle of the large yard at the sheds if the
a weather perspective because my husband, Tom, was
and Julia had tragically died in the fires.
fires should reach them. They would be safe there.
time, a position he had held for many years. We farm on
It was devastating. In the days that followed the fires
With that organised, Tom and I then lived, ate and
the eastern edge of the Shire, and monitoring the weather
continued to burn uncontrolled through our district and
breathed the fires from morning to night, running on
and trying to predict what is going to happen is part of
threaten the town and small farming communities. For
adrenalin and collapsing into bed late each night to
our everyday life, but we had never seen conditions like
our volunteer fire fighters, and those that came to help us,
be up early for the first eastern states media interviews
it was a hugely challenging and exhausting time. For our
and brief of the day at the Incident Report Centre. We
community it was frightening, confusing and extremely
eventually got home for the first time a week later in time
I remember stepping out of Council Chambers at
distressing. For me, it was the beginning of mustering
for Sunday Burger Night and a few beers in the shed with
lunchtime that day, feeling the intense heat and looking to
all of my communication skills to provide the community
the boys. It was only then that I really relaxed and took in
the West as the mountainous black clouds filled the sky
with correct, up to date information as soon as it was
the enormity of what had happened.
and ominously eclipsed the sun. The town was bathed in
provided to me from those in charge of the fires.
volunteers, was nothing short of extraordinary.
the Chief Bushfire Control Officer for the region at the
pg 118 | VICTORIA BROWN
The community was desperately hungry for regular
so when faced with cameras, microphones and live-
side. We were pretty exhausted by all the media calls at
information and we had to keep pumping it out in
to-air program broadcasts I felt comfortable answering
this stage, and I had my fork to mouth when my bloody
whatever form we could, as social media threw up
questions and delivering the information at hand.
phone rang yet again. Not recognising the number I
misinformation in the blink of an eye and spread it as
thought to let it go to message bank, but then said to
damagingly fast as the real fire. The Shire staff became
There were moments of humour and light relief, and
Nat, “Probably another media call. I may as well get it
expert at scanning the community pages and posting
we sure needed those, and in particular a couple of
now or I’ll only have to deal with it later.”
the latest update to ensure everyone had the correct
memorable phone calls. The first one was from our
facts on what was happening. Between packed out
mates Rory and Dave up at The Gums, who had been
I picked up and rather tersely said “Hello?” No answer,
community meetings at the Esperance Civic Centre twice
cut off from any phone communication for days and we
so I said again “Hello?”(Louder this time). A male voice
a day, and television, radio, and social media, we kept
were very concerned as to how they were going. We
from what appeared to be a long distance away said
that information flowing. In fact, led by the CEO, right
heard from them late one night when they’d eventually
“Hello?” It sounded like an overseas telemarketer. I was
through the organisation in every department our local
regained mobile signal and called us to say they were
a bit peeved and impatient to eat my lunch by now, and
government did our community proud and went well
alive and well, and could we please inform the world that
nearly hung up, but thought I’d give him the benefit of
beyond the call of duty.
Salmon Gums had not burnt to the ground as reported
the doubt so said “Hello? Who IS this?” probably even
on ‘sensationalistic commercial TV’ and that the fire had
louder and more tersely than the first time. The male
My phone never stopped ringing. If I didn’t answer
not come closer than thirty kilometres of the town site.
voice replied “Is that Victoria?” I said “Yes, it is.”
it for an hour due to incident updates or community
We laughed as one of them said “Can you tell the media
meetings, there would be twenty plus messages to
to stop getting the facts wrong as it’s pissing us off and
The man then said “Hello Victoria.
pick up, prioritise, and respond to. We had offers of
as well as those of our kids who are overseas and are
This is Malcolm Turnbull calling from Manila.”
help flood in from other Local Governments, calls from
hearing reports that the town has been wiped out. We’re
State and National broadcasters, ABC and commercial
still here!” I think the language was probably a bit fruitier
TV and radio stations, Sunrise, Today Tonight, The
Project as well as newspapers and radio stations
But without missing a beat and dropping my voice to a very pleasant, reconciliatory, and suitably dulcet tone,
from all over the world. Everyone wanted to know what
The second memorable call was when Natalie and I
I replied “Well hello, Prime Minister. How lovely to hear
was happening, but my priority was informing the
were sitting in the car outside Sumo Salad having a quick
from you.” After I had finished the conversation and hung
members of our community what was happening as
bite of lunch, generously donated to us by the owner.
up I looked over at Nat and said “Do you think I got away
many were bewildered, confused and afraid. Having a
Nat was a tower of strength throughout, and a more
with that?” and we fell about laughing at the near miss of
background in radio and media really helped me here,
supportive deputy you could not have had at your
a potential faux pas!
VICTORIA BROWN | pg 119
VICTORIA BROWN - CONT. Shire of Esperance President (2015 - Present)
The Prime Minister visited our town not long after and
Cr Lara McIntyre and placed in the Esperance Civic
It was then that our recovery really started and continued
met with the community and volunteers and emergency
Centre for anyone to sign. So many people wrote in them
over the months well up to and past the first anniversary
services who had worked, and were continuing to work,
to share memories and show their love & support for the
date in November 2016. We chose to acknowledge the
so hard in so many different areas. He was particularly
families. Freddy’s book was particularly full, packed with
day very simply, with the four flags of Australia, Great
sensitive and understanding at a private meeting with the
so many messages for our local legend and his family.
Britain, Norway and Germany flying alongside one
Curnow family who had lost their father, husband, son
another at our jetty headland. A small speech from me,
and brother in the fires. The Premier of WA, Colin Barnett,
From the onset of that cruel deliverance from nature and
a minute’s silence, an unveiling of four bronze memorial
also visited us along with many other State and Federal
the ensuing inferno the human spirit shone through. Our
statues on Grigg Road, Scaddan, and a gathering of
politicians. The Premier was the first to kick off donations
amazing community, and those who came to help us,
those who wanted to physically be together to mark the
to the Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund which eventually
rallied and rose to the challenges, wrapping arms around
events of a year ago.
raised $1.7 million all of which was successfully
those who needed it most and lifting the community
delivered to the fire victims. Both the Lord Mayor of Perth,
onwards and upwards. We witnessed courage, tenacity,
I remember one particular story told to me by Sergiy
Lisa Scaffidi, and Her Excellency the Governor of WA,
compassion, generosity, unity and camaraderie. People
Sushchov, father of Anna. He said he was amazed
Kerry Sanderson, visited our community to offer and give
came from near and far to help repair burnt out farms
by the generosity and out pouring of compassion to
support. It was very much appreciated.
(BlaizeAid), bring in food for stock and fencing materials
his family that had come from our community. He had
(WA Farmers), offer social and emotional support (Red
come with his wife, Natalya to be in Esperance one year
For me the hardest meetings of all were with the parents
Cross). People cooked cakes and biscuits and meals
on and to attend an unveiling of bronze sculptures to
and families of our own local legend Freddy Curnow,
(CWA, Baked Relief and local groups and businesses).
commemorate the lives lost on November 15th 2015.
and with those of Tom Butcher, Anna Winther and Julia
Farmers helped farmers, neighbours helped neighbours,
Kohrs-Lichte. Freddy died doing the job of a volunteer fire
people made new friends, and the Shire Council Local
He said that they had booked into some accommodation
fighter and trying to warn others of the impending danger.
Fire Recovery Group was formed with sub commitees
and that the owner had asked if they were the family of
Tom, Anna and Julia were on an overseas adventure
in finance, infrastructure, environment and community
one of the young people who had died a year ago in
far from their homelands when they were caught in the
support. Then suddenly Christmas was upon us, and
the fires. He said yes, they were, to which the owner of
fire front. There were no adequate words of comfort to
there were end of school concerts and graduations to
the accommodation replied, “Well you will not need to
offer anyone. All we could give was an assurance that
attend, Carols by Candlelight, the Christmas Pageant,
pay for your stay with us while you are here.” Sergiy
their children would never be forgotten and their names
the Seniors’ Christmas Dinner…..and life rolled on, and
was so touched by that generosity and said he truly felt
always mentioned in our town. We presented each family
events in the nation and the world rolled on, and the
welcomed and known and cared for in our town.
with a condolence book. These had been organised by
intense interest in our small coastal town diminished.
pg 120 | VICTORIA BROWN
That was the message I heard so many times from everyone who came to help us and who lived for a while in our community during and after the fires. We live in a beautiful place. We are an amazing community. I was so proud to be Shire President of Esperance during what some might call â€˜our darkest hourâ€™, because it was our resilient, caring and supportive community that helped pull us through and back into the light.
VICTORIA BROWN | pg 121
pg 122 | Image: adam clark location: LEIBECK ROAD, SCADDAN
Image: adam clark location: LEIBECK ROAD, SCADDAN | pg 123
KATE WARNER “Through the Eyes of a Farmer’s Daughter”
My recollections of the Esperance fires mainly revolve
went to work as normal, travelling back to the farm that
of the way of the fast-approaching fire front. Dad recalls
around Merivale. My father Leon Warner manages the
night. My back was giving me some grief, so I decided to
the intensity of the wind and the embers flying through the
property ‘Langvale’, where we both lived. It is located
take Tuesday off work and rest it – between dad’s broken
air quite close to the ground, like nothing he’s ever seen.
on Merivale Road, just past the turn off to Cape Le Grand
scapula and my back we were quite the pair! Dad had
At the forefront of their minds was getting the livestock out
National Park. Langvale is home to about 600 Red Angus
gone to town to attend the funeral of a friend’s father.
of harm’s way.
A few hours later, dad was still in town and the smoke was
I spent the next three or so hours alone, constantly
The week before the fire, dad had sustained a broken
becoming quite thick around our house. Inexperienced
checking the wind direction and thinking about my
shoulder blade in an unfortunate motorbike accident.
in being in an imminent fire situation, I wasn’t sure if
contingency plan – should I go to town? Should I stay
Unbeknownst to dad, this injury would prove challenging
the fire was still contained down at the reserve and the
at the house? What will I do if the fire comes? How had
during the days that followed.
strong wind was just blowing the smoke our way, or the
DPAW not contained the fire yesterday or Sunday when
fire itself was heading towards us. It was when I saw a
the weather was milder?
cattle and owned by the Lang family.
My first recollections of the fire were from the Sunday
neighbour’s fire truck race past our driveway that I knew
after it had started. I was at the Tea Rooms, enjoying the
we were in a bit of trouble – If they were on their way to
By 6pm I decided the best option was to go to town, so I
Sunday Session with friends, when I phoned Dad to ask
the fire, it was too close for comfort.
packed up essentials for both dad and myself. I stayed
about the fire I could see across the bay, in the Merivale
that night at the Lang’s home after reaching town via Jim
direction. When asked about it, he replied that it was ‘all
Before I could pick up the phone to call dad to let him
Ovens & Fisheries Roads, driving away from the fire as I
good, it’s just in the reserve and it’s miles away from us.’
know I needed him, he and Rodney Locke came roaring
went. After chatting to our western boundary neighbours,
up the driveway. They’d had to sweet talk the authorities
we realised that it was only thirty minutes after I left that
I didn’t think much of it until he rang again a few hours
manning the road blockade just to let them through. Dad
the fire front had torn through Langvale while Dad was
later and advised me that it looked like the fire had started
jumped out yelling for me to help him gather up his fire
helping Rodney on his property.
to flare on DPAW’s watch, still nothing too imminent, but
brigade kit while he got into his overalls. We both had
it was probably best to stay in town for the night just to
been in significant pain, but it’s amazing how the human
With a change of wind direction, now blowing from
avoid having to drive through smoke on Merivale Road
body can forget about all that when an emergency
the south, dad and Rodney realised they needed to
in the dark.
arises. I ran back to the shed to gather his gear as fast
change their focus from the livestock, which was now
as I could. Once we had grabbed all of dad’s equipment,
safe, towards the northern neighbouring properties. The
On Monday morning the fire was still burning in crown land,
he jumped straight back in his ute and they took off down
homesteads were in the care of Bryan Warren & Glen
supposedly under the control of Parks and Wildlife, and so I
Cape Le Grand Road to move the Locke’s livestock out
Martin, so Dad and Rodney headed back to Langvale.
pg 124 | KATE WARNER
Around 8pm that night I finally heard from dad. He was
Over every hurdle in front of them, they managed to put
outstanding. It meant that dad could look after the animals
shaken and tired, but safe. His first words on that phone
the fire out and save the hay stack.
and start to tend to some of the on-farm necessities like feeding and watering stock. Up to that point Dad had
were ‘Langvales gone’. It was hard to tell the extent of the damage in the darkness, but he knew it wasn’t looking
Dad continued to drive up through the middle of the
just opened gates and let the cattle fend for themselves,
good. He let me know they had finished what they could
farm to see what damage had been done. At the central
giving them a chance to fossick out whatever feed hadn’t
at Rodney’s and would stay at Langvale for the night. I
laneway the cows were huddled along the fence,
didn’t know what had unfolded during the afternoon of
bellowing loudly to get out. Amazingly the angle that the
firefighting until he started to fill me in.
fire had burnt on allowed the cattle to escape serious
Dion and Josh Lay, Merle, Andy and Bill Leiper, Freo,
harm. In fact, in the light of day, we discovered that apart
Don Heathcote, Andy Hann, Craig Hine and Les Lang
Dad told me that fire had come through the adjacent tree
from a few emus with singed feathers and sore feet, all
continued to put in a countless amount of time, effort and
plantation on a north-easterly angle, continuing straight
the animals seemed unscathed.
support. For a whole week they worked on Langvale, taking over all fire duties, back burning and putting fire
into our front paddock, before blazing right through the rest of the farm. When Dad and Rodney returned
Just over a third of the property was burnt, including
breaks around paddocks with the brigades from the
to Langvale in Rod’s ute, they drove to the stock hay
power-poles and fences, but the fire front had left major
eastern districts, just getting in to do what needed to be
stack and found the fire lapping around the base of the
infrastructure untouched. That night there was no power
done. I finally made my way up to Langvale on Thursday
bales. In all the chaos, their shovels had been left back
on Langvale, but Dad later related that there had been
morning, after some of the roads were re-opened.
at the shed, so they had nothing to dump dirt onto the
so much light thrown from the embers and spot fires
huge sense of relief came over me as soon as I saw
flames. In desperation and utter determination not to lose
from 360 degrees around, there was no need for lights
Dad, I couldn’t stand being stuck in town not being able
the hay, they stamped over the fire in their boots. Dad
to help him any longer.
full movement from his shoulder injury, he put the ute in
Rodney needed to return to his own property, so Dad
The crew were back at Langvale every morning, with
the wrong gear and stalled it – only then to discover that
braved the daunting task of being a solo fire fighter and
Andy Hann being the ringleader. It was comforting
it also had a flat battery!
spent the next six hours dousing the flames with the
having them all there, as they all knew the lay of the land
tractor-drawn fire unit.
well, including where gates and back tracks between
jumped in Rodney’s ute, and due to his arm not having
the neighbouring farms were. I’m sure the arrival of
Dad then ran almost 1km, in an immense amount of pain, back to the house to retrieve another vehicle plus
The following morning volunteer brigades from all
non-local fire brigades was a welcome relief to many
surrounding districts arrived and took over the fight –
volunteers in Esperance, but there is no comparison to
using front end loaders and graders. Their efficiency was
KATE WARNER | pg 125
KATE WARNER “Through the Eyes of a Farmer’s Daughter”
This was highlighted on Friday morning whilst I was in
to see if the stress had affected their performance. It was
Aunt Colleen did whatever she could as well.
the middle of the farm fixing a fence. A spotter plane
hard to see the extent of the damage, but after testing
went overhead and the next second I saw Dad roar
them twice, it was confirmed that all bulls recovered,
As awful as it was, the fire really brought everyone together.
past in the fire unit, hot on its tail. A few minutes later
except for one. It was one of our most superior bulls,
Before the fire, I hadn’t met many of our neighbours, but
another fire truck went past – albeit in the wrong direction,
already singled out for stud breeding purposes. Although
that changed as the week rolled past. We shared lunch
completely missing the gate they needed to go through!
the animal didn’t perish in the fire, it’s a loss nonetheless.
and conversations with whoever was manning the fire trucks nearby and towards the end of the seven days,
Unfortunately, there were no locals aboard the truck to During the visit, Lee made time to sit down with Dad and
when the fire risk was less intense we had set up fold-up
asked him how he was. It was only then that he had to
chairs at the top of the paddock and that was our lunch
We didn’t stop putting out spot fires on and around
choke back tears; he’d been seeming to cope so well
spot – which could be a cold meat and salad sandwich
Langvale for seven days. When the sun was high
but the entirety of the situation was starting to rock him.
or a delicious, and much appreciated, care pack from
guide the crew the correct way.
enough, the ground would warm up and soon after, the grass and reeds would light up. One of my jobs was to
The farm had started to get very low on fuel as the fuel
sit at the top of the paddock and be on fire watch. If you
truck could not get out along the closed roads and there
Comic relief was also heartily received. At the end of the
saw a puff of smoke and left it, minutes later it would be
didn’t seem to be any other solution. The realisation
day after everything had settled down, usually around
a growing grass fire. I would jump on the tractor as soon
of not being able to run tractors, trucks and utes was
6pm, we would climb Taylors Hill, sit looking over the
as a puff of smoke was sighted, scoot down and put it
another blow and again Dad found himself choking back
expanse of blackened paddocks and crack a well-
out, then return to my post at the top of the paddock. This
emotions on the phone to the fuel depot. We did manage
deserved beer. We would have a few laughs at the day’s
became part of a normal day’s routine for me, until the
to access fuel from one of the neighbouring properties,
events and a few jokes, usually at someone’s expense.
sun went down.
thanks to the Warren family on Jimberlana.
It was always a comforting way to finish the day.
In the days after the initial fire, the Agricultural Department
After that incident, we decided that I would be “Chief
One of the hardest things was watching my dad be a
sent out their Veterinarian Lee Chester to inspect animals
communications officer” – all phone calls would go
one-armed fire fighter. He was struggling with his broken
for smoke inhalation. The affected animals needed
through me. I wanted to share the load, take some of the
shoulder, but he would still try to shovel and hose down
stress off, little by little, doing whatever I could. Dad was
grass fires in the paddock as quick as the next person. He
contracting pneumonia. David Swann was so helpful,
too busy making decisions regarding the welfare of the
was physically fatigued and managed to fit in a rest one
coming out to treat animals within a few hours of being
animals to have to deal with everyday decisions on top
afternoon when things seemed under control. It wasn’t too
contacted. Testing was also carried out on the bulls later,
of it all. I wasn’t the only one that pitched in though, my
long after dad had headed into the house that I noticed
pg 126 | KATE WARNER
smoke coming from the Cape Le Grand direction again.
help. The Lang’s relatives and other family friends
I really didn’t want to wake him up, I knew how much
agisted the stock on their properties that were nearby,
he needed to rest his body and mind, but somehow, he
but with calving just a few months later, it was much
got up and kept going through it all – it really is amazing
harder to keep a very close eye on the cows as they
what the human body is capable of.
started birthing. The effects of a fire like this reach so much further into the future than you could ever imagine.
I felt quite isolated in the moments when I didn’t know what was going on, especially from family and friends further
After the fires, Tanya and Rod Locke, Craig and Cathy
afield. The lack of communications available didn’t help
Hine, Phil Cleghorn and Erica Ayers would all drop in
in the slightest. Directly after the fire, we had no power on
from time to time and see Dad, always asking if he was
Langvale, no home phone and the UHF’s weren’t working
going OK. The friendships grew stronger and we have
properly due to the long distances between units. The
what I like to call ‘Merivale family dinners’. That sense of
farm was quite a black spot for mobile reception too. My
community and support was the only good thing to come
Uncle, Allan Evans, was working in Grass Patch and we
out of the fires.
couldn’t find out if he was safe for a few days – but those days felt like an eternity.
I wish there were a better way to describe it, as it sounds generic and rather cliché and so standard for any
Allan’s daughter, Emily, who lives in Donnybrook, felt
tragedy, but the community camaraderie was really what
physically ill at the thought of being so helpless and so
we needed at that tumultuous time.
far away. But family always pulls together. My cousin dropped everything to travel across and help. She
Although we felt like we coped with the immediate fire,
provided some of the much-needed comic relief with her
after the adrenalin subsided, the ensuing mental and
witty sense of humour. My younger sister lived in Augusta
physical exhaustion for months following this emergency
at the time and came to help with the recovery effort a
proved to be a real challenge for Dad. The precious
week later, bringing her partner’s family along as well.
pockets of time with friends and family, back then and even now, in-between all the stress, catastrophe and
At day’s end, Dad would comment at how much faster
rebuilding, is what has softened the disaster and helped
the fences were being erected with all the extra hands to
KATE WARNER | pg 127
GRAHAM GATH SES Volunteer
I was at the Tearooms with friends on Sunday 15th Nov
Tuesday morning saw smoke from the Merivale fire
was quite surreal as the smoke and flame from the spot
2015 when the electrical storm went through and the first
starting to come over the Esperance Bay and forming an
fires remaining was rising vertically. The devastation was
puff of smoke went up near Mount Merivale.
interesting backdrop to a cruise ship in the bay.
The smoke had intensified on Monday and the State
The smoke from the Pyramid Lake fire was starting to
When we got back to IC at 3.00am on Wednesday 18th,
Emergency Service was mobilised. Our role was to
blanket the town.
planning for the evacuation for Grass Patch and Salmon
provide a communications facility, operators and scribes
to Incident Control and logistical support to the Bush Fire
I went out to the Mount Merivale fire as part of the SES
contingent to re-supply the Fire Brigade there.
I had a little input into this. It was interesting to observe the â€˜Brain Stormingâ€™ by persons obviously experienced in
Late Monday night I went out to the Incident Control
A number of DFES staff flew down from Cockburn Central
conducting and organising such a procedure. They were
Vehicle near the Pyramid Lake fire with food and drinks.
to increase the capability of IC. At this time IC was
aware the highway was likely to be closed to after 7am
I noted headers were working in the paddocks and
relocated from DFES office in town central to the Co-
as the wind would pick up and smoke and flame would
mentioned this to Will Carmody, the Fire Control Officer.
Location Building on Brazier Street.
render the highway closed to all but specialist vehicles.
He said farmers from the coast had come up to fight the
At this time there were also 2 significant fires south of
fire and help the local farmers who were harvesting as
Midnight on Tuesday I was tasked to re-supply the
Norseman adjacent to the highway to be considered.
much of their crops as they could as they knew next day
ICV north of Cascade with food, drinks and change of
All these were obviously significant constraints and time
the conditions would render the fire uncontrollable and
personnel. An Incident Manager from Cockburn Central
all would be burnt.
asked if he could be shown the fire zone as he wanted to be familiarised with the terrain and vegetation. It was
When I came into IC later on Wednesday a lot of vehicles
Bulldozers and fire brigade crews were working along
suggested I go with him in a DFES vehicle as I had
and personnel were in attendance from the wide area of
the road verges creating wider fire breaks. You would see
appropriate fire awareness training and knew the area
the southern portion of the State.
the fire in the distance out in the bush.
fairly well and both tasks could be achieved. Three large fires were also burning in the Cape Arid
Tuesday morning the fire took off and burnt swath 97km
We resupplied the ICV and were advised of roads we
long and up to 23km wide, through to the highway
could take that would take us through to the highway and
and beyond with massive destruction of property and
give us an appreciation of the situation. Driving through
On Wednesday 18th Nov a large effort was underway
tragically the loss of 4 lives.
the fire zone and down the highway in the early morning
with SES members maintaining communications and
pg 128 | GRAHAM GATH
logistical support to the Fire Brigades and earthworks
State had arrived. More volunteers arrived 21st November.
Over the next days our efforts as SES members was
contractors. We had acquired mobile chillers and were
Many members of the public were bringing food and
aimed to maintaining communications and logistical
dispensing them to and re-supplying them at various
drinks and the pin-up boards were being festooned with
forward control points with food, drinks and fuel. We were
thoughtful messages from school children.
also re-supplying water bombers.
By Wednesday 25th Nov things started winding down On Sunday 22nd November the Mount Merivale Fire
and we started going back to our day jobs. While the
On Thursday morning I was asked to drive one of the
started threatening the Quarry Road, Bandy Creek and
incident was happening I was dividing my time between
exhausted fire fighters vehicles to his farm at Grass Patch.
Racecourse Estate areas prompting evacuation notices.
SES duties and an important job at the Port I was working
He accompanied a Safety Officer in a DFES vehicle. After
on with a team of others.
dropping him off we drove back to Esperance, inspecting
I asked if I could go home as our property was just south
several sites on the way back for safety issues such as
of the Racecourse.
damaged powerlines. When I got home ash was falling over our house. Our On Thursday afternoon I flew out in a helicopter to
daughter Anne was in control of the situation and had our
Israelite Bay and Point Malcolm to check for campers.
son Ryan and Son-in-Law Ben watching for spot fires. I
This was necessary as the Cape Arid fires had increased
equipped them with 2 knapsack sprays and explained
in magnitude and crossed the access road in places. It
their grandfathers had put out bushfires with knapsacks,
was possible people trying to return to Esperance could
wet bags and tree branches. The water bombers were
be trapped on sections of the road. There were large
operating on the north side of the Turf Club.
contingents of DPAW staff and contractors fighting these fires.
A monumental effort was put in by the water bombers and firies to save the Newtown Clubrooms.
Myself and others were tasked over a period of days to re-supply the Yacht Club as meals were being provided
We had a buffer of the green Racecourse between us
and the fire so I was confident only ash and not the fire front would impact our property. I had already packed
By Friday the 20th November, large numbers of volunteers
up a lot of items from the house and placed them in
and equipment from all over the southern portion of the
my office in Dempster Street. I then returned to IC.
GRAHAM GATH | pg 129
Image: jake meadley | pg 130
Image: jake meadley | pg 131
TOM BROWN I was harvesting on our property Hill Plains, when I
conditions. As a farmer I also watched the weather
I was tasked with putting in place fire and movement
received the call that really started the 2015 fire events
constantly, being at its mercy throughout the seasons.
bans for the shire, so I kept this all in mind. As a rule,
for me. It was the afternoon on Monday 16th, when the
But in all my time, I had never come across a forecast
I try to keep everyone in an area harvesting right up
local DFES office contacted me regarding the fire that
like the one I had received for the following day. The set
until a ban, when fire danger becomes too great. It’s the
had been burning in bushland up at Cascade. By about
of conditions predicted were extremely unusual, and
best possible way of keeping producers observing and
3pm that afternoon I had driven into Myrup Fly-In Estate,
informed of conditions. When people are still out there,
and after jumping into the chopper we were on the way up to Cascade.
they are aware of the situation and the weather occurring. Keeping in mind that you never know if the forecast will
They can notice lightning strikes from storm events or
be right or wrong, we spent a good few hours going
building smoke from fires. The aim is to keep the area
Once on site we landed to pick up Will Carmody, before
over different scenarios. Amongst other things, we talked
focused on the weather coming – by keeping them out in
flying out to observe the fire front. Ash Stewart and I then
about the number of units Cascade may need if the fire
the paddock, keeping things moving, keeping producers
waited on the ground as the chopper did a second run
emerged. Cascade is a sparsely populated area, and
aware of what’s happening around them. It keeps people
over the fire with Paul Carmody and Brian Welke. Being in
during the middle of harvest there is probably 15 to 20km
thinking, and they are less likely to head inside or off the
the air allowed the guys to get a good aerial perspective
between headers. Most of the farms are operated by
property and ignore the day.
of what they were dealing with and assisted them with
small family units, with many of the machines driven by
formulating a plan of attack for the following day. After
backpackers, unused to Australian fire conditions. The
On Tuesday, I ran the harvest ban scheds as planned. It
finishing up, we dropped the guys back down before
district could not hope to cope with the magnitude of
was a very calm morning, and out west the fire was still in
heading back to Esperance.
what could come at them.
the bush. As the day heated up, the Merivale fire started to give grief and I was soon up in the chopper, watching
Once back, I headed to the DFES office, catching up
Strangely enough, the weather leading up to the forecast
with Gavin Warnes and debriefed him on the situation in
had been fairly mild. Sunday had been warm, but a bit
the building fire go roaring towards the national park.
Cascade. We talked in length about plans going forward,
cloudy, and Monday was quite cool. It had been patchy
The on-ground efforts at Merivale were in full swing.
with great emphasis on the forecast for the next day.
weather to harvest in and producers around the region
However, because of the smoke and difficult terrain, the
had been hampered by the conditions. Tuesday was
volunteer fighters were unsure of whether it was safe to
The forecast which I had received for Tuesday was
predicted to start out cool and calm- a good harvesting
get in to assist. At one stage, I asked the chopper to drop
nothing short of extraordinary. I had been a bushfire
morning - before we were to be hit by this amazing stream
down, and we picked up one of the firies. We lifted him
officer for around 24 years, during which time I had
of hot air that was coming down from the Goldfields.
up and flew him around for a few minutes, so he could
been responsible for monitoring and recording weather
pg 132 | TOM BROWN
have a good look at the front, then set him back down.
communications that came over the airwaves. The radio
The radio communications that I had were as much
The vollie then had a better understanding of what they
chatter at the DFES office was incessant. It had become
about offering a familiar voice and a calm demeanour,
were facing and where the units could go.
the central nervous system of operations, where all
as they were about the assisting the flow of information.
incoming and outgoing communications were received We could see people on the ground defending buildings
and dispatched. There were no brigade officers on
At one point, someone had asked me what would
as the fire swept in, hovering above as owners fought to
channel as they were too busy fighting, so I manned the
happen. My reply was something along the lines of
save a building on one side, only to see tonnes of fire
radio. The chatter was thick and fast, and the channel
‘There will be a lot of volunteers on the ground out there
and flame roaring towards them on the other. The fire
was so busy that conversations were running into each
and once the fire has come through they will be right in
trucks and volunteers would then come belting in to help
other. There was a volley of information and requests to
there behind it, mopping up and doing the absolute best
defend the property.
be acted upon, often requiring phone calls to be made,
they can. You just have to trust and believe, that they will
before we could get back to those waiting in desperation
be in there.’
It was as we flew over the fire, that I spotted the enormous
at the other end of the radio.
cloud of smoke and dust to the west. The sight of the front
I kept this in mind as the afternoon continued, knowing
from the air is something I will never forget. The sheer
Late in the afternoon, I received communications from
full well the possible implications of a fire of this intensity,
darkness and immensity of the smoke cloud had me
Salmon Gums. The people waiting in the town were
yet silently hoping I would be wrong.
awestruck. At the same time, the heat from being over
terrified, as reports came in that the fire front was
the top of the Merivale Fire, plus the heated air streaming
imminent. There were moves for evacuation to occur
I was in the DFES office that evening, when the first fatality
from the Cascade front, made the inside of the chopper
from where people had gathered on the oval. I managed
report came through. It just stunned everybody. Earlier
akin to a furnace. Just touching the aircraft’s metal frame
to get a call through to people up at the front, asking
while up in the chopper and faced with the maelstrom to
felt like my skin was getting burnt off my leg. As we made
them where the fire was and where it was headed. After
the west, I had thought about how many people could
our way back into town, the strength of the wind against
confirming that the town wasn’t under immediate threat, I
possibly die. I had been living with the thought, right
the chopper was phenomenal. We seemed to struggle to
got back to my contact in Salmon Gums.
up until that very moment. I had almost thought we had
gotten away with it. It was a gut-wrenching feeling to Trying to calm the situation, I told them I had spoken to
have my worst fears realised.
Back in town, the Shire CEO had organised someone
people at the head of the fire and not to panic. Where
to call people on landlines and evacuate the area
they were, being as safe as they could ever be, and to
By Tuesday midnight, an evacuation to Esperance from
threatened by the now out of control Cascade blaze. All I
please relay the message along.
Salmon Gums had been decided upon. It was to occur
could do was sit and listen to the calls and the constant
early on Wednesday morning, and I was asked to go
TOM BROWN | pg 133
TOM BROWN - CONT. along in the lead vehicle. I knew both the people and the
During Wednesday the volume of community members
and chatter I could hear were all things I knew I could
area fairly well and could answer questions about what
calling through started to swell, until there was a
help sort out. There were a lot of issues and concerns
was going on when we got there. Those common threads
constant flow of cars and volunteers. The generosity was
coming in from the affected areas, coupled with a good
proved very useful and highlighted the importance of
incredible, as car after car arrived with boots full of food
deal of pent up emotion.
local knowledge and understanding.
and drink, all purchased at personal expense. As news
The ensuing convoy was massive. Once we returned,
of the devastation spread, the community dug deep,
I was finally asked by DFES to go up to Cascade to talk
helping by whatever way was possible.
to the vollies up there, who were desperate to backburn
I was straight back in the co-location centre. All the
another 12,000 hectares. I was to head up in the chopper
entourage from DFES and DPAW were hitting town, and
I spent the remaining part of Wednesday manning
and work out what the plan of attack would be. I felt the
there was another handover. Our local DFES officer was
radios. Clean up efforts had begun in some areas, while
best way to address a lot of the other issues was to see
stood down for two days, so for a period I became the
fighting continued in others. Being a receiver on radios
people on ground directly, so I made a split decision
local ‘go to’ person.
seemed to work pretty well. The SES had come in to
to use the chopper to make our way around the entire
help with communications, but the volunteers on ground
region. On the way out to the chopper I asked DFES if
I found the co-location operations ran like clockwork. The
really needed a voice they recognised. I also knew the
they could get the DFES chaplain, as I wanted to bring
DFES officers that I worked with had a good knowledge
areas involved and had a good idea what was going on
base and listened to the local people around them. One
from the comms I had been involved in the day before.
officer in particular was incredibly appreciative of the
It made it easier to work out what was needed in certain
Our first stop was Cascade, where quite a crowd had
knowledge and understood how invaluable an asset it
areas. There were a few holes where producers had
gathered. We landed. I let the vollies know that there was
was. The unwavering dedication of local brigades also
been left to fend for themselves in the chaos of the day
a chopper there for them to use, and about four people
garnered a fair bit of respect and admiration. It came up
before, which we managed to address. The importance
jumped in to go up and have a look at where they wanted
in conversation with a DFES officer. He couldn’t get over
of communications during the event, and the ability for
to back burn. After seeing it from the air they all seemed
the response speed.
those on ground to hear a voice they could relate to was
happier - and knew just what they needed to do. They
decided that they didn’t need to backburn, and with that,
“One call over a radio about a spot fire and suddenly fire
the issue was quickly put to bed.
trucks are roaring out of nowhere – the vollies just jump
By Thursday this became even more obvious. The day
on it,” he had said in amazement. “You see a bit of fire
had started out quite frustratingly for me. I had been pulled
Meanwhile, the Chaplin was gradually easing his way
and they just charge at it!”
in around the planning table, and as I sat there I could
around the crowd. He paused to chat or just say hello,
hear the radio calls in the background. The questions
spending longer with some people than he did with
pg 134 | TOM BROWN
others. He seemed to have some innate ability to ease
in the field where these things occurred and felt that the
the Esperance Shire, including blazes at Cape Arid,
the tension and calm the atmosphere. The Chaplin then
experience was invaluable for his role. I have since had
Merivale and north of Salmon Gums. With the return of the
said a prayer to the 40 or 50 people that were gathered,
personal contact with some of those that the Chaplin
Cascade fire to shire jurisdiction, all expenses were once
before we were back in the chopper and flying to Grass
spoke to, and they have expressed their sincere thanks
again foot by the shire. To put the enormity of the scale
Patch. We left the location with it seeming in better spirit
that he was able to come along for the ride.
of works into perspective, the combined fire scars from
and everything more under control.
the 15th to 26th November, covered 310,000 hectares. The teams I visited on the ground were working extremely
At Grass Patch I spoke to a team that were doing a bit
well together. Scaddan also had an extremely proactive
The Shire CEO is to be commended for stepping up to
of back burning in Robertsâ€™ swamp. Once again, the
group. Every morning Ash Stewart would pop into the
fund the continuation of the chaining effort that protect
Chaplin eased through the crowd. He worked calmly
co-location shed and sit around the table, listening to
those farms both to the west and east. DPAW were also
and quietly, picking up a few more contacts to catch up
what the plans for the day were to be. He would then
incredibly supportive of what needed to be done. Many
head straight out to Scaddan, where up to 200 volunteers
businesses and contractors chipped in to allow the
would be waiting there for him to pass the information
work to continue, at reduced or no cost to the Shire. The
We effectively spent most of the day at those two locations,
along. I have had feedback from people about how good
extraordinary generosity of community members and
sorting through issues, while the chaplain quietly spoke
this system was and how much they appreciated Ashâ€™s
those further afield, will not be forgotten.
to those affected. It was amazing to witness him work
efforts. Where there are strong brigades, there are strong
with people. While I had a common thread with those
groups of people that work well together. We are fortunate
fighting and the issues they faced, he seemed to be able
that in this region we have numerous very professional
to check in on their spirits and how they were coping.
and very strong brigades.
The Chaplin was very quiet on the flight back. I turned
On Friday, I was at the police station for most of the day,
to him and asked, half in jest, whether he might need
providing a statement. Suffice to say that I didnâ€™t enjoy it
some counselling now. He proceeded to tell me how
much. I ended up leaving early as things at the Merivale
astonishing the experience had been for him, he had
fire started to go pear shaped. Fires seemed to dominate
never seen anything like it. As DFES Chaplin, he had
everything for another week, before things started to
always been in an office in Perth, where people suffering
trauma from car accidents or house fires came in to see him. He had never had the opportunity to be out
In the end, there were essentially four fires that fell within
TOM BROWN | pg 135
pg 136 | Image: ADAM CLARK
Image: ADAM CLARK | pg 137
ANONYMOUS. For myself - and in the terms of a bushfire brigade
much the mid-day events. At that stage I didn’t really
those storms had originated. What we drove into on
volunteer- the Tuesday of the Esperance fires started out
appreciate how severe the situation was.
Grigg Road, the rolling wall of smoke, almost a tidal
in an unassuming manner. Our unit began the day with a
wave, looked just like those dust storms I had witnessed
stint down at Merivale, and our attendance there proved
After resupplying in Gibson, we stopped briefly at a crew
to be fairly standard. There was nothing that really
member’s property to drop off a vehicle. In doing so
niggled of the events to come.
we exchanged places with the other heavy unit in our
Finally, we started to clear the smoke, and as we did so
convoy, which meant our unit then brought up the rear.
we could see the emergency lights of the fire unit ahead
One of our crew drove, with a second crew member
On the way up, our usual conversations continued. One
of us. We came out of the smoke completely. Suddenly
seated in the passenger side, whilst myself and our
of the crew told stories about when he was a youngster
we were pretty much underneath the fire. The main front
fourth crew member rode on the back, manning the
on the family farm. He related his experience of a fire
was no more than 300 metres away.
water. We were in a low-pressure area and a fairly low
he had seen, that was so ferocious it had gone straight
stress situation. Certainly, things were going wrong on
back over ground that had already been burnt bare.
The fire unit that had been ahead of us was already
the coast, with a loss of a bulldozer and much more
Little did we know how much that story would relate to
heading towards us and it became clear that what was
intensive asset protection, but where we were it was
our own experience.
in the background on the UHF was turn around and go
essentially a sand dune and heathland fire backing onto
as a youngster.
back. I can say with certainty that we did a quick-smart
pasture. The usual banter carried on, as those on the
We soon reached Scaddan townsite and turned down
about-face behind it. I wasn’t overly impressed with how
back picked on the drivers gear changes, and we all
Grigg Road, to be surrounded by really thick smoke. Still,
deep the gutters were on the road, as we went very close
contributed to the general conversation - about everyday
as we sat in the cab, the run of the mill conversation
to tipping over.
stuff - that was normal for our unit.
continued between us. We conversed over the sound of constant coastal chatter on the yellow fire radio, which
By the time we turned around the fire had passed us.
As the day progressed, we saw more and more smoke
had been non-stop. Underneath it all our own UHF could
I’m not sure if it had turned a fraction, but the front was
coming from the north. I remember at one stage hearing
just be heard. We drove on surrounded by the smoke,
running down the side of the road. My eyes were met with
a radio call from there, that had managed to cut through
the conditions we could see through the window of the
the sight of swirling tongues of flame that stretched past
all the other chatter. It said something along the lines of
cab, like something from a childhood memory.
us by 50 to 60 feet. We were doing 70 to 80kph before
“we’re losing it”. About an hour after that call, we were
we managed to get back out in front of it. It was definitely
told that we were heading up to assist at the northern
I grew up in the Victorian mallee, and as a kid I can
hot in the cab, but at that moment I wasn’t appreciating
fire. One of our crew stayed on at Merivale but the rest
remember the giant dust storms that hit Melbourne. The
exactly how hot it was.
of us headed off to Gibson to resupply. That was pretty
South Australian and Victorian mallee country was where
pg 138 | ANON.
We cleared the flames, only to go straight back into the
We turned around and went back up to Scaddan and
The next morning, I was back up Scaddan way. Seeing
heavy smoke. The visibility was terrible. Reduced to
made our way to Freddy’s house. There wasn’t anyone
the destruction in broad daylight was sobering. What I
following the blue flash of the emergency light on the unit
there. After mopping up what was still burning, we headed
experienced had felt surreal, but daylight suddenly put
in front, I silently hoped they didn’t run off the road, all
down to Curnow’s shearing shed on Raszyk Road. The
more weight on it all.
whilst repeatedly telling them over the UHF to speed up.
shearing shed was gone. Afterwards I did a couple of days work down at the
Our unit made it back to the highway and thankfully, we
We ran into Brad Lewis and his son, quietly going about
Merivale fire, in between having to file a coroner’s report
decided to head south not north. Just south of Scaddan
some mopping up, but once again there was no sign of
and having a few days off to clear my head. A week
we came across a water truck that was heading up to
later I went back up to Gibson for a day, helping with the
Salmon Gums. We stopped him and warned him not to
fires that sprang up from another thunderstorm passing
continue. He was hell bent that he needed to get water
After using all our water, we went back to Scaddan and
through. In the aftermath of it all, I really felt for those
up to Salmon Gums, so it took a fair bit of convincing to
topped up, before heading to Darren and Kelly Curnow’s
who had to face the devastation of the land on a regular
get him to turn around. We eventually got him to back up
property. We pulled up to find their house was on fire. We
basis. It served as a daily reminder of all the pain that
and return to Esperance. We gradually made our way
managed to douse the fire - thankfully we could get easy
south, stopping at Griffiths Road and then Speddingup
access to the roof by pulling the ceiling out of the carport.
West Road. At that point the gravity of the situation really
I found some solace in knowing that the house we had
became apparent to me, as the others rang family and
We checked some more places as darkness settled in.
managed to save, belonged to Freddy’s brother and
friends warning them “if it comes south, don’t hang
We then headed back and filled up with water again. It
sister-in-law. The one good thing I felt, was knowing that
around. Just get out.”
was at that point the phone call came through to say that
we potentially helped protect the photos and memories
Freddy had been found.
residing there. And that may have included ones of
During the calls it became apparent that Freddy
Curnow, a close mate of one of our crew members,
Our unit went straight up to Grigg Road. We spent quite a
was missing. As soon as he could, our crew member
bit of time up there. The other heavy unit, which we had
But the thing I will always remember was the complete
was on the phone speaking to Freddy’s wife who we
been separated from earlier, also made its way up. It
dedication one mate had to another. The utter resolve
had passed on the way up, trying to find out where his
was when the second unit went to leave, that we realised
and tireless commitment. To me, the lengths he went to,
mate was. It became his main focus. He was relentless.
Tom and the girls were on the same road. After we had
to find his mate, showed the true measure of a friend.
Wherever we were, whenever we were in transit, he
further instruction, I took the truck for crew change and
was on the phone, hell bent on trying to find Freddy.
then headed home.
ANON. | pg 139
SOMEONE UP THERE LOOKS AFTER ME! Dirk and Lena Keizer of Kalima Tree Plantation (now owned by the Marcus Gray Family of Esperance)
At 1.45pm on November 17th, 2016 my wife and I left
The plantation of 519 hectares was a total loss, all
Kalima Tree Plantation on the corner of Cape le Grand
fencing destroyed but all was covered by insurance
Road and Merivale Road and on reaching the corner
which was procured providentially only weeks before.
were redirected by the fire fighters away from Merivale
We were treated well by the various insurers. And this
Road due to severe fire danger present.
also is a substantial part of my firm conviction that:
The timing was extraordinary as we very rarely go to
“Someone up there looks after me!”
Esperance on a day other than a Friday, but as most county dwellers do, we always go on a Friday to do
This is my story and I am sticking to it.
various things in town. But this time we had an urgent doctor’s appointment in Esperance at 2.30pm and this was arranged months previously. Shortly after we left, our property was engulfed in an inferno and it is likely we would have perished as the fire burned right up to and around the house. We would have tried to stop the fire in the intense heat and lack of oxygen and at 79 years old, resilience is simply not there. Moreover all our fire preparations were in vain as the water in the tanks was lost and rainwater not available
Images to follow: Tree Plantation, Merivale
as we lost electrical power. We had no mobile phone
Image Credit: Jaimen Hudson
coverage and the heat was intense, downpipes melted
These images were taken approx. one year after the fires
and concrete slab shattered within 2 metres of the house.
& demonstrate regrowth in the Merivale area. It should be noted that the Merivale Bushfire Brigade
In Esperance we were welcomed and looked after and
Shed is located in this direct vicinity, on the corner of
after 2 days we were able to return home.
Merivale Road / Tyrrell Road.
pg 140 | SOMEONE UP THERE LOOKS AFTER ME!
KALIMA TREE PLANTATION, IMAGE: JAIMEN HUDSON | pg 141
ANONYMOUS. Tuesday the 17th of November 2015 began much the
Finally as the savage Cascades fire front approached
The car we had been drawn to belonged to a friend and
same as any other day, the weather was fine and quite
the recently evacuated township of Scaddan, we were
neighbour of the Curnow’s and his headlights pointed
warm as is typical of the time of year. I was aware of the
sent out. We got there just after the fire front had passed,
at a burnt-out car that we knew to belong to Freddie
fires burning from Sunday prior, to the East and North
to scenes we could only describe as a post-apocalyptic
Curnow. He reiterated to us that no one had heard from
West of town and so the forecast strong winds and low
war zone. We immediately got to work extinguishing fires
Freddie, so there was a shared feeling of concern upon
humidity was certainly genuine cause for concern.
around the primary school, surrounding homes and
seeing his burnt-out car, a feeling slightly eased when
he said something along the lines of “I’m pretty sure he’s
Our brigade (Pink Lake Urban/Rural Fire Brigade) had
not in there”. However not having a torch he had only
enough crew at the Merivale fire so I was at work as
By nightfall we ended up at the home of Freddie and
been able to rely on the headlights of his car through
normal. By lunchtime we knocked off due to the heat and
Roseanne Curnow. There was a power pole hollowed out
the trees from the road above, so we took a closer look
with the news of the fires intensifying I left the jobsite and
by fire and bush smoldering near the house. No one was
under torchlight. What we saw in the car is something I
went to the fire shed to see what I could do.
around and we thought Freddie needed to know of the
will never forget. Confirmation of everyone’s fears.
remaining risk near his home, so after trying his mobile We still had one truck on standby but initially got no
with no response, we put a radio callout to see if anyone
Being involved in emergency services you accept that
direction to mobilise to either fire. We sat and listened to
could share his whereabouts. The reply was that no one
at times you will be subjected to situations such as this
the fire radio in anticipation as the weather continued to
had seen or heard from him since the front went through.
and you do your best to prepare for them. What I wasn’t
Initially we thought nothing of it as with the chaos that had
prepared for were the events immediately following. The
just occurred and the often poor phone communication
emotional moments of impact. Being the bearers of bad
in the area, we were sure he would turn up.
news and witnessing first-hand the reactions of those
It was the driest and windiest conditions I had ever seen, and I worried for my fellow fire fighters who were already
closest to Freddie as they arrived on the scene to find
battling the blaze. Still we could only wait as it seemed
We put out what we could and then left the Curnow’s,
out they’ve just lost a best mate, a neighbour and friend,
the fires had become so fierce that even those on scene
proceeding West on Grigg Road. Very shortly after
could only watch and keep out of the path of destruction
leaving the property we spotted headlights up ahead
until it was safe to mop up behind. I recall hearing the
moving across the road and stopping, pointed curiously
The looks in their faces, the despair in their voices and
shock and disbelief on the voice of a senior firey that I
to the gutter and bush beside the road. We were fixated
the way I saw those blokes physically sink as they heard
know to have many years’ experience in fighting fires as
on the vehicle ahead and later realised that we had
the words. That’s the stuff that really stays with you.
he said, “I’ve never seen anything like it”.
driven by the car and trailer of Tom Butcher, Anna Winther and Julia Kohrs-Lichte without noticing.
pg 142 | ANON.
At the time we were just doing our jobs and we still had
After that I really was OK.
much more of it to do. So with little time for the reality
I was affected, but OK.
of what had just happened to sink in, we carried on through the wake of the fire, checking properties and
Whether you were a fire fighter, police officer, ambulance
extinguishing anything that still posed a risk. We spoke
volunteer, SES volunteer, farmer, community group
to people whose properties, machinery, livestock and
member, a regular local or even a tourist passing through,
crops had been damaged or lost and we saw a lot of it
we were all affected by the severity of this disaster. We
all handle things differently and not one experience or reaction is more worthy than another.
I went home to my wife that night to find she had already heard the news of the four people who had lost their lives.
What I feel is important to remember, is that this is life
I was tired and didn’t feel it was appropriate to discuss,
and sometimes horrible things happen to good people
so I went to sleep.
and no amount of sadness, anger or heartbreak will ever change that. Those of us left to deal with it have two
In the following days, with the threat of fires continuing
choices; be strong and deal with it alone or be stronger
to burn closer to town, any emotional reaction was
and deal with it together.
again postponed, as we were too busy to stop and think too much about it. Each shift and each day on the fire ground only added to the physical, mental and emotional burden. I had still neglected to open up to my wife or anyone else about the whole experience, until after several days and without my consent, all that I had bottled up, overflowed. All it took was a question, “Are you OK?” I couldn’t hold back the tears as I replied “ I thought I was” and I proceeded to cry for probably half an hour as I shared the story of the tragedy I had witnessed and the pain I felt on behalf of all those affected by these horrendous fires.
ANON. | pg 143
pg 144 | KALIMA TREE PLANTATION, IMAGE: JAIMEN HUDSON
KALIMA TREE PLANTATION, IMAGE: JAIMEN HUDSON | pg 145
IN MEMORY OF A TRULY AWESOME BLOKE WHO LEFT THIS WORLD TWO YEARS AGO, TRYING TO SAVE OTHERS. YOUR BARLEY LIVES ON. CHEERS FREDDY.
Post excerpt dated 16 November 2017 Lucky Bay Brewing, via Facebook.
pg 146 | CHEERS FREDDY, LUCKY BAY BREWING
front cover: Morcombeâ€™s Family Property Scaddan, Western Australia 3 years post-fire Cover Photographer: Adam Clark
As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invitation was extended to the wider Esperance community calling for personal accounts and recollections of the November 2015 Bushfires. The response was nothing short of overwhelmingly positive. Research indicates that sharing your story is a critical part of the personal recovery process, and contributes to Community healing and recovery. The Shire of Esperance received a total of around 30 contributions. These are their stories...
"Our Bushfire Recovery Story" is a memoir of community strength & resilience. As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invita...
Published on Aug 15, 2019
"Our Bushfire Recovery Story" is a memoir of community strength & resilience. As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invita...