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Fran Cleland says she's scarred but dealing with fires aftermath

Sad: Fran Cleland was burnt out in the Mickelham fire.

Sad: Fran Cleland was burnt out in the Mickelham fire. Source: News Limited

Loss: Fran and Reg Cleland inspect what remains of their home.

Loss: Fran and Reg Cleland inspect what remains of their home. Source: News Limited

IN 2009 after Black Saturday, I wrote about the agony of the people affected by the devastating fire.

How much I felt for the smoke-saturated, hollow-eyed people who came into the supermarket in the only clothes they had left, and how, four years on children would jump, startled if the alarm on the cash register went off.

I learnt it was because they associated it with the smoke alarms as they fled their houses.

I helped as much as I could and so did the rest of us.

But this time, I am the one with only the clothes I was wearing, with my dogs, my husband and a smoke saturated car.

My life has so totally changed. I look in the mirror and don’t know me.

We were totally confident last week.

We’d grazed the paddocks around the house bare. We live in a double-brick house that has a 20m platform of concrete around it.

There were trees, but supposedly ones that would resist fire.

The power went off at 12.30pm last Sunday.

At 1.30pm we had no house.

Yes, we knew there was a fire, and kept an eye on the CFA reports.

We stood outside the house, at the ready.

We knew Elvis was lifting water from dams near us and there were other helicopters working, so we felt safe and prepared enough.

Through binoculars I would see the fires travelling what was the usual path for them.

My husband, Reg, opened the paddock gates to let the horses through.

We did all we should have, but what we didn’t see were the fire devils . . . spreading the fire sideways.

When fire suddenly appeared on our side of the road, we looked at each other, put the dogs in the car, went back in the house to get the papers — and the smoke alarms went off . . . and the skylights caved in, the vent on the big gas tank blew, and the house filled with thick black smoke.

I got to the car and found Reg’s favourite dog Bill was missing and there was no way he would leave and Reg dove back in the house.

When he didn’t come out, I did what my son said never to do and opened the front door.

I couldn’t see, and suddenly the best sight ever was he and the dog, both scorched coming out.

A friend roared up the driveway in his ute to help.

I sat in the driveway of the house next door and watched our house burn down, and the neighbour’s next door, both within five minutes.

The next day my older son, who is in Willowmavin, lost his sheds and stables but saved his house.

The fires, still raging had travelled 40km on a 3km front, but at least by then, the CFA forces had massed. God bless them.

There’s a lot I have learnt. So very many people care and want to help.

The CWA gave me clothes and food and toiletries, so many want to help.

But there are negatives.

How did television crews get in when even my own family were not allowed?

Arriving on the doorstep and requesting an interview, and again later in Kilmore.

They milk every tear, every pain.

They happily circled my house as it burned filming for the edification of the masses.

There will be a lot of things said about the road blocks. The authorities are so proud of the fact no one died, but they caused uncounted agony for so many animals.

We saw a farmer stuck for three days at the Wallan refuge, frantic for his sheep . . . three days.

The fact we had to fight for the knackery truck to get to our place meant my broken hearted sons were the ones to shoot animals they loved. They didn’t deserve that.

In farming country, so many animals were unnecessarily left to suffer.

My mum says we come from tough stock.

She tells me we will mend.

I have watched the Black Saturday people deal with the aftermath, and they are scarred but still standing.

I hope we can do as well.

 

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Comments on this story

  • Nicole of Kilmore Posted at 9:57 PM February 20, 2014

    Dear Fran and Reg, everything is raw for you all at the moment. Having escaped the Black Saturday fires with a suitcase of valuables and the clothes on our backs, we understand the bewilderment you must be feeling right now. Not only do you lose possesions, but you lose a sense of normality. All your routines, patterns of behaviour, and predictable situations will be different. Trust that this too, shall pass. You will create new norms. You will face many new challenges that will test your tolerance and patience, your relationships and your faith. There will be scars, but they are evidence that you survived a massive test of strength along life's journey. A reminder to never take life for granted. Love and light to you all at this very emotional time. You are not alone x

  • Jennie Schroen of Tyabb Posted at 9:51 PM February 20, 2014

    You wrote that from the heart and it shows in every word. You and Reg will rebuild and yes, will be scarred but know that you both are in the hearts of the entire equestrian community along with others. There will be help available, make sure you use as much of it as you need. We all are donating and offering what we can to try and ensure you both have everything you need. Look after yourselves, cry when you need to, do not be too proud and accept all you need to. You wrote a powerful and moving piece and should be very proud of that also.

  • Carol Simpson of Glen Iris Posted at 8:45 PM February 20, 2014

    Keep strong Fran & Reg the equestrian community will help one of their own.

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