Page 1

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: Morcombe’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

dreadful

day,

and

the

days

that

followed

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 ‘unprecedented’

part of our incredible story and the challenges we faced

fire weather.

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.

community.

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

gets tough.

image: ADAM CLARK LOCATION: SCADDAN, 2 YEARS LATER | pg 11


We respectfully acknowledge the tragic lives lost during Esperance’s November bushfires, 2015.

pg 12 | image: adam clark LOCATION: fisheries rd / myrup airstrip


image: adam clark | pg 13


KYM “FREDDY� 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

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

wonderful

Curnow also perished.

compassion. Strangers who now became friends.

We took time to experience your beautiful beaches,

community

gave

us

faith

in

humanity.

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

heavy.

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


FIREMAN’S PRAYER

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

were happening.

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

people safe.

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.

moved.

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

maintaining control.

first glimpse of the fire damage was from the bus window

interviews.

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 deputy’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 farmer’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 – 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.

Thankfully

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 – they were mending lives and families as they went about their fencing. They also found something special in our wonderful community – 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 nature’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

weekend.

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

were gone.

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-

the fire.

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.

some pain.

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,

lost souls.

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

crew member.”

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

touch.

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.

farm hands.

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

horizontally.

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

teacher.

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

own lives.

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.

police arrived.

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

east.

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

flanks.

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

more...

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

2015 bushfires...

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

army.

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

evacuated!”

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.

Sometime Loni

and moved on.

later

walked

we

out

were

with

back

her

at

the

phone

to

station. her

The Metro crew started relay pumping to the LT, while

again!

Within minutes we had a call from Speedy to fall back

I threw a flaked hose over my shoulder and legged it

boys

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

“MVA started

(Motor

Vehicle

throwing

jackets

Accident)”... and

helmets

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

role.

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

clearly recall.

heading.”

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

metres.”

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

needed.

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.

people feel.

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 wasn’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.

would begin.

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

the plans.

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 – 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


“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 (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.

A huge

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


“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.

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

with something.

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

intended outcome.

- but no DFES, or maps - to be seen. There were a few

standing in front of me.

WILL CARMODY | pg 77


“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 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

whilst

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

on

Wednesday

the

mobiles

crashed,

and

missed call.

WILL CARMODY | pg 79


“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.

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 – 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

school grounds…

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.

regional environment.

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.

Scaddan epitomises.

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

ideal.

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 Dunn’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

welcome sound.

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

coming.

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

all around.

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


Shorty’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

‘Rainbow Hill’.

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 wasn’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 Morcombe’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

(Image opposite).

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

seat.

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

Scaddan.

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

Boddington fire.

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

treacherous.

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

community

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

this before.

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.

groups,

government

agencies

and

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

Eeek!

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

than that!

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 ‘our darkest hour’, 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,

been burnt.

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

anyway.

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

A

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

some jumper-leads.

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

local knowledge.

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.

the CWA.

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

antibiotics

risked

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,

and

anti-inflammatories

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

fast

or


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

the healing.

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.

astounding.

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

Gums commenced.

to Incident Control and logistical support to the Bush Fire

I went out to the Mount Merivale fire as part of the SES

Brigades.

contingent to re-supply the Fire Brigade there.

I had a little input into this. It was interesting to observe the ‘Brain Storming’ 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

sensitive.

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

National Park.


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

support.

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

there.

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,

thoroughly disconcerting.

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

make headway.

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

him along.

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

quite significant.

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 Roberts’ 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

with later.

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 Ash’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 didn’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

settle down.

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

anyone else.

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

had occurred.

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

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

buildings.

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

worsen.

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

a brother.

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

first-hand.

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: Morcombe’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...

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Our Bushfire Recovery Story  

"Our Bushfire Recovery Story" is a memoir of community strength & resilience. As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invita...

Our Bushfire Recovery Story  

"Our Bushfire Recovery Story" is a memoir of community strength & resilience. As part of the Recover, Rejuvenate, Restore Project, an invita...