Saturday 7th of February 2009 started as any other Saturday in the Harrison house. The explaination why ABC Kids was not on as it was a Saturday and both girls disagreeing over breakfast cereal, what spread they wanted on toast and the exact way in which the toast had to be cut - squares or triangles. The day was warming up very quickly which we were anticipating as the forecast temperature was 47degrees here and the wind was a hot, screaming northerly. At around 11.00 AM the local CFA fire siren sounded and I saw a puff of smoke out over the ridge towards Kilmore East. Also around this time Nikayla split her head open after running into the corner of a table. Rob was at work but I knew that he would be coming home very soon as he had a medical appointment at the local doctors surgery to have a tumour removed from his neck to be sent away to pathology. I rang him to see how far away he was as I thought that he would also have to take Nikayla to get her head checked when he went to the doctors. Fortunately by the time Rob got home, I had stopped the bleeding and discovered that the wound was quite superficial afterall.
The smell of smoke was heavy in the air but we thought that we were still O.K as the fire seemed to be travelling in a different direction. By the time Rob got back from the doctors we were implenting our fire plan. The wind had changed direction and you could now see the flames and they were now heading straight for Wandong.
We lost our power and then our phone lines. Water pressure had also dropped considerably. Mobiles were virtually useless as the network was jammed or the service was just unavailable. The smoke and heat was just horrendous. It felt like your throat was literally burning with every breath that you took. We were advised by authorities to leave immediately or stay and defend. It was decided that I would evacuate with the girls and Rob would stay to defend the property. I was quite distressed and didn't want to leave him on his own to battle alone. My heart ached as I drove away from our property. I prayed that he would be alright. We knew it was bad but how bad was another thing entirely - The enormity of just how bad it really was hit me as I drove out of Wandong to the evacuation point in Kilmore. Looking back everything seemed like it was on fire - there was just a wall of flame and mushroom clouds of thick white, grey, black and brown smoke. I wondered if anything would be standing in Wandong with the onslaught of destruction that was barrelling down the hillsides like a bullet fired from a gun.
The girls and I made it safely to the evacuation point where we were then processed by the Red Cross. The next few hours were absolutely terrible. I had been told by people arriving at the evacuation point that Wandong was decimated. I couldn't get hold of Rob and one one could give me any 'actual' updat information. By this point the stress was starting to take its toll and and a feeling of utter desparation was starting to take over. People were trying to find out about loved ones and whether their properties were still standing and no one could tell you a thing. Kilmore lost power so it was decided that evacuees would be re evacuated to Wallan. Around 7.30 PM I finally heard from Rob that he was safe and we still had our home. The girls were extrememly emotionally distressed by everything and the chaos that was surrounding us. I needed to get my girls to an environment where they felt somewhat safe and secure. Knowing now that Rob was safe and being told by authorities that I was unable to return home as it was too unsafe, at 8.30 PM I headed to my folks place an hour and 20 minutes away.
We were displaced for some time but are now reunited and at home. There are still areas around town where access is blocked due to 'crime scenes' or they are areas which are just to unsafe to be in.
I cannot begin to express how thankful and blessed we are to have each other and our home. We are just so damned lucky. The fire burned right up to a street away from us, then the wind changed and it took off in another direction. The CFA and the air crew consisting of Elvis and 4 other water choppers did an absolutely phenomial job in extreme conditions.
Many of the houses that are still standing in hugely burnt out areas are a testiment to the choppers dropping water on them. The intensity of the fire and the inassessible areas meant the choppers were the only means of asset protection.
I cannot begin to express how devasted I am for my town friends who have lost absolutely everything and there are lots of them. There are just areas of absolute devastion, it is just mind numbing. Words just cannot express what I am feeling.
It is a day that will forever be etched in my memory as an absolute living nightmare of devastion and heartbreak. It was the day that our community came under siege by a ferocious out of control force of nature that literally played roulette with the devastion that it inflicted
The following photos I have taken as the fire front approached. There are no photos to share however, during the critical moments as I had evacuated with our 2 girls and Rob was focussed on other events happening around him
Tragically there was loss of life and some 150 houses in our little community that were destroyed in Saturday's fire storm. In a cruel twist of nature's fate, some of these properties belonged to local CFA members who gallantly fought to save our properties and sadly lost their own. Though the outcome has been devastating for all involved, we are all so much aware of how much worse it could of been, and for that, if you can be, are grateful to mother nature for sparring us
Somehow life goes on..................
And Life Will..............................
Here a car lies burnt out right at the garage door of a house which amazingly still stands. It stands in start contrast in a paddock of blackness all around.
We would also like to express our sincerest thanks to family and friends who have been there for us and have had us constantly in their thoughts. Thank you for being there in our absolute darkest hours of fear and need.
We are constantly overwhelmed with the generousity of people and businesses. Thank you for opening your hearts and supporting those who have lost absolutely everything.
To the volunteers of the CFA, SES and Red Cross - thank you just isn't enough