Fires devastate Tasmania
Residents in Dunalley speak of the devastating blaze that gutted much of the town while crews continue to battle fires across the state.PT0M0S 620 349
THE fire that came for Dunalley brought a dark rhythm with it.
''What happened to my parents, happened to me,'' said boilermaker Mal Murdock, as he stood amid the ruins of his dreams.
Here was the 1974 Harley Davidson 1000cc Sportster, a cindered wreck on rims.
Destruction in Dunalley
More than 100 properties went up in flames in Dunalley, Tasmania. Photo: Chris Kidd
Over there, under buckled corrugated iron in a shed sat the remains of a vintage speedboat. Next to it in another shed squatted a melted Mark Skaife Signature Monaro.
All gone, when the bushfire howled out of the forest to the north of the once-pretty seaside town in catastrophic weather on Friday. It reduced a third of the town's houses to smoking heaps in chilling proof that Australia once more is in a bushfire summer.
More than 100 properties went up in Dunalley and nearby communities. The town lost its school, police station and a historic local hall and stables. Far around, the hills were black, the vegetation scorched to the sea, as the fire burnt on.
On Saturday night one of its fronts was 20 kilometres down the Tasman Peninsula, where firefighters worked to save the holiday town of Taranna. Police estimated 2700 people were stranded at community refuges.
Further up Tasmania's east coast, highways were cut as another big fire burnt south of Bicheno, about 180 kilometres north-east of Hobart.
Despite earlier reports that a man had died trying to defend his home, police said on Saturday there had been no confirmed serious injuries or deaths from the fires. Late Saturday, the risks posed by the ongoing blazes were downgraded.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an emergency support package for fire-hit Tasmanians but warned that the widespread extreme heat meant risks elsewhere.
''It's a very Australian thing to fear, and also to understand, the devastation of bushfire,'' Ms Gillard said.
In Victoria, firefighters battled an out-of-control blaze at Kentbruck, in the state's south-west, which has so far burned 2174 hectares, as temperatures eased. Bushfires at Ensay, in East Gippsland, and at Port Albert, near Lakes Entrance, were being controlled.
Fire risks across the state are predicted to remain high this week, with temperatures in Melbourne likely to reach 36 degrees on Monday. The heatwave in northern Victoria will end on Wednesday, with temperatures dropping to the low 30s.
In South Australia, bushfires were being monitored on the Fleurieu Peninsula on Saturday night, and the Country Fire Service said the bushfire at Finniss was brought under control.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the fire that hit Dunalley catastrophic, unlocking a rapid assistance response, but had yet to estimate the damage in dollars.
For survivors in Dunalley on Saturday, the blaze's scale drew an instinctive comparison to Tasmania's most damaging 1967 bushfires, which cost 62 lives and left thousands
homeless. ''I was six years old,'' Mal Murdock said. ''My parents lost a house too.''
This time he stayed, wet the ground and watched the flames roll north along the hilltops, then suddenly turn and bear down on Dunalley. He realised it was all too great to fight. ''Then I ran over the bridge.''
Dunalley, the entry to the Tasman Peninsula, has a sea canal running through it. Mr Murdock crossed the bridge, sat on the bank and watched from the other side. ''I could see it all go. The Harley, the boat, the car. Then I saw it licking around the front porch on my house after the front had gone. I said to one of the fireys could they please just send someone over with a hose. They did, and it was saved.''
Not so for the family of four down the street, who, red-eyed and grief-stricken, declined to speak as they poked around remains of their home, while their 1970s Corolla stood, indestructible, still for sale on the main street's verge.
Nor for the couple in their seventies, whose home was flattened, leaving a flaring satellite dish and a collection of charred garden statues.
Here was the concrete cute little girl, blown onto her back, the smoke-stained rabbits and fairies on toadstools, and a boy with a dog, his ashen face looking up to the hills from where the fire came.
Their daughter, who declined to identify the couple, said they had been in Hobart at the time and were too upset to talk.
''They're holding up,'' she said. ''They remember 1967. But how do you start again at 78?''
Further on, past the twisted wreck of the bakery and the burnt-out primary school, Holly Kelly, 19, walked the street looking for a black shar pei. ''It's a little dog, it's not mine, but I'm looking for it for a friend.''
When the fire came, Holly was at home with her 11 horses. She shifted them out of a grassy paddock, and the animals crowded together behind a caravan, unscathed but for a single flank scratch. ''I stayed as long as I could, but the sky was all full of black smoke,'' she said. ''Colin and Todd, my brothers, stayed and saved our place. Next door it just went down.''
In the paddock behind her as she spoke, one of the horses nipped another over rights to the hay.