Fran Cleland says she's scarred but dealing with fires aftermath
- From: The Weekly Times
- February 20, 2014
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.