Terror of fighting Bush fire

INFERNO: The bush fire rages at its height, consuming forest with terrifying speed. BELOW: the charred remains when the fire was finally extinguished.

INFERNO: The bush fire rages at its height, consuming forest with terrifying speed. BELOW: the charred remains when the fire was finally extinguished.

AN Isle of Man ex-pat found himself fighting to save his home from the Australian bush fires earlier this month.

Peter Brocklehurst, who grew up in Douglas, is the nephew of the late Douglas Councillor Doreen Kinrade. His son Symon Walmsley and a cousin still live in the island.

After attending St Ninian’s and Ballakermeen schools he worked for Okells and Bradford and Bingley for a time before moving to Australia in 1996.

Speaking last week, Mr Brocklehurst said: ‘Bushfires are common in this area, but we usually have them out in a couple of hours. This one is still burning after 10 days, and has burnt out 60,000 hectares and destroyed 53 homes.’

The fire destroyed an area one-and-a-half times the size of the Isle of Man and left him fighting to save his home as the flames started to ignite his verandah.

‘I never in my wildest dreams thought that one day I would be fighting to save my home from a raging bush fire in a foreign land. But I did,’ he said.

‘On January 13, 2013, an ominous date with two thirteens in it, I watched from my home and olive grove of 15 years – named Mannin Grove in honour of my heritage – as a massive fire traversed the Warrumbungles National Park on the horizon from north west to south east. That Sunday afternoon, in the sweltering 40 degrees centigrade, I watched the fast-moving fire burning from west to east, a long way away. And then the wind changed, blowing from the south, bringing the black plume of smoke directly towards us.’

Emergency orders were in place, he said, and he and his wife Eva had received an evacuation order by text.

‘We made last-minute efforts to secure the property, close all doors and windows and turn on the water supply for firefighting, then my wife headed off to the local town, Coonabarabran, and safety.

‘I am a member of the Rural Fire Service, a volunteer organisation, so I had to spring into action immediately. Donning my “yellows”, I made sure Eva was safely on her way into town before rushing to the fire shed in the valley to get my truck out and ready.

‘Others had joined me and it was obvious we did not need to go anywhere – the fire was coming to us, and quick.’

In fact it was advancing so quickly he had to hang up in the middle of calling his wife to say he was all right. The fire had swept across the main road and blocked his route back home. There then followed a tense drive home using the alternative route through the forest – not ideal with a fire raging nearby. Almost home, at the end of his road and in the 9pm darkness, he met a fire engine and crew which were lost.

‘This was eventually to be my saviour. It was pitch black except for the red glow of the fires. The smell of smoke was intense and the roar was like a dozen freight trains coming at once,’ he said.

They drove past burning trees and fleeing animals to reach the house.

‘The olive grove was burning, my observatory dome was melting and the fire had started to flicker around my verandah. The truck rammed through the double gates and drove straight up to the house. We started on the verandah fire and put that out and then turned to other areas around the garden to prevent it impacting the house again.

‘The rest of the night I spent on the verandah watching for embers which might fall on the house and reignite the fire. By 6am I judged the house safe and headed for town to let Eva know I was alive, and I’d saved the house.

‘It’s under control now, leaving us with nothing but praise for the 500 volunteers. So far, 53 houses have been confirmed lost, including my two neighbours’, but no loss of life.

‘Such is the penalty for wanting to live in one of the most beautiful areas of Australia.’




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