Miracle es­cape for walker

HIKER RE­SUMES TRACK TREK DE­SPITE BE­ING MIN­UTES FROM DEATH

Hills Gazette (Kalamunda) - - FRONT PAGE - Justin Bian­chini Lynne Gri­er­son

THE HIKER res­cued within min­utes of the hut he was shel­ter­ing in be­ing razed by fire was back in the bush two days af­ter his dra­matic he­li­copter res­cue.

Ever­ard Curchin, of Carine, said he would re­turn to win­ter walk­ing at the end of his camp­ing trip.

He spoke to the Gazette from the Perth Hills Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre in Mun­dar­ing on Tues­day af­ter he al­most per­ished in the Sawyers Val­ley blaze lit by an ar­son­ist.

“I’ve learnt a les­son, but I’m not go­ing to brood on it. I’m back in the bush, stay­ing at the camp­ing site here and I’ll re­turn to Perth on Thurs­day morn­ing,” he said.

Mr Curchin (67) was on a four-day trek of the Bib­bul­mun Track walk on Sun­day when he no­ticed a plume of smoke in the dis­tance about 8am. “It didn’t look too bad,” he said. “I watched the he­li­copter bombers fly­ing back­wards and for­wards.

“Then at 1.30pm I sud­denly re­alised the sit­u­a­tion had gone from fairly ok to very, very bad.

“Trees just go­ing up like can­dles; roar­ing can­dles.

“It was too late to walk out. The Bib­bul­mun Track was cut off in both di­rec­tions.”

He shel­tered in one of the track’s huts (He­lena hut) but did not panic as he heard the fire “roar­ing like a great big en­gine” and he re­mem­bered think­ing: “If worse comes to worse I’ll find a bald area and lie on the ground.”

Mr Curchin said the fire had looked a long way off and he had no sense of dan­ger un­til flames ap­peared over the ridge.

“I thought it would start rain­ing in the af­ter­noon, but the rain didn’t come un­til much later,” he said.

The re­tiree had no re­cep­tion on his mo­bile phone.

“Ev­ery­one keeps say­ing don’t bush­walk in sum­mer at all, but I would say if you must trek in bush­fire sea­son, and a lot of back­pack­ers do, then you need to keep watch­ing, look­ing for the dan­gers and have an es­cape plan in mind,” he said.

In the air, DFES air at­tack su­per­vi­sor Ro­han Aird and his crew were pass­ing over the hut to see if any­one was in­side.

They took ad­van­tage of a break in the ae­rial wa­ter bomb­ing op­er­a­tions for a sec­ond swoop and that was when they saw a man stand­ing out­side the hut.

“He looked very re­laxed, not con­cerned at all, and there were 4 to 5m flames not that far away from him,” Mr Aird said.

The he­li­copter landed in a 10m by 10m open­ing that was “awk­ward to get into”.

“The fire ba­si­cally fol­lowed us from where we picked up the gen­tle­man, across down to the air­craft. So it was fol­low­ing us along.

“I’d say he was ex­tremely lucky. We didn’t have a lot of time.”

Res­i­dents across the Hills re­ported burnt leaves rain­ing down 15km west of the fire front threat­en­ing Mun­dar­ing Weir vil­lage.

Mr Aird said air in­tel us­ing a ther­mal imag­ing cam­era re­ported the hut burnt to the ground five min­utes af­ter the res­cue.

“This is prob­a­bly a timely re­minder to hik­ers they re­ally do need to be aware of the ter­rain, mon­i­tor bush­fires, wind changes and prob­a­bly carry an Emer­gency Po­si­tion In­di­cat­ing Ra­dio Bea­con (EPIRB),” he said.

An area of State for­est ‘pre­scribed burnt’ two years ago was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in halt­ing the fire.

“The fire burnt through over 3800ha of State for­est and pine plan­ta­tion,” said a De­part­ment of Bio­di­ver­sity, Con­ser­va­tion and At­trac­tions spokesman. “Large ar­eas of na­tive for­est were also burnt, re­duc­ing the qual­ity of habi­tat for na­tive fauna.”

Pic­ture: Martin Ken­nealey www.com­mu­ni­typix.com.au d478326

Ever­ard Curchin and his res­cuer, DFES air at­tack su­per­vi­sor Ro­han Aird. Right: Curchin re­count­ing his or­deal us­ing a map.

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