Re­turn to Pere­gian

Blaze took this widow’s home, but left some prized ‘treasures’ in­tact

The Courier-Mail - - FRONT PAGE - PA­TRICK BILLINGS

AS RES­I­DENTS re­turned to fire-rav­aged Pere­gian Beach, Pam Mur­phy in­spected the charred mess that had been her home for 40 years.

No­body would have blamed the 89-year-old for feel­ing hard done by. The un­prece­dented em­ber storm that hit the town on Mon­day night took only her home, spar­ing all oth­ers. Yet she con­soled her­self yes­ter­day by find­ing “treasures” in the ruins.

AS RES­I­DENTS re­turned to fire-rav­aged Pere­gian Beach, Pam Mur­phy in­spected the charred mess that had been her home for 40 years.

No­body would have blamed the 89-year-old widow for feel­ing hard done by. The un­prece­dented em­ber storm that hit the evac­u­ated town on Mon­day night took only her home, spar­ing all oth­ers.

But in­stead of de­spair, Mrs Mur­phy was yes­ter­day find­ing hope in the “per­sonal treasures” that had sur­vived the blaze.

“We thought ev­ery­thing would have been gone,” she told The Courier-Mail from her Plover St prop­erty.

“It’s quite amaz­ing find­ing these per­sonal treasures.

“It just gives you that lit­tle bit of pos­i­tiv­ity.”

The per­sonal treasures in­cluded paint­ings, an­tiques from the 1800s and fam­ily pho­tos, such as the one of her son be­fore he died over­seas.

Still miss­ing was her Burmese cat Daisy, who’d fled when wild flames started lick­ing at the back yard.

Au­thor­i­ties started let­ting peo­ple back into Pere­gian early yes­ter­day as fire­fight­ers snuffed out the last of f the fires.

The Sun­shine Coast town quickly came back to life, with res­i­dents re­count­ing just how close they had come to com­plete dis­as­ter.

Kyle McManus was re­lieved to find his house still stand­ing.

“I was ex­pect­ing there to be just noth­ing left, “Mr McManus said.

“It was just amaz­ing what the fire­men did when they pulled it off.

“When you left this place you just thought ‘it’s gone, there’s no way it will be here’.”

Plover St res­i­dent Lester Hard­ing had spent a ner­vous 36 hours won­der­ing if a

We thought ev­ery­thing would have been gone... It’s quite amaz­ing find­ing these per­sonal treasures PAM MUR­PHY

“blan­ket of em­bers” had con­sumed his home.

He and his wife Jackie had stayed to de­fend their prop­erty, but fled at the in­sis­tence of po­lice on Mon­day night.

“The em­bers started com­ing down on top of us and the sky was golden, like a com­pletely golden blan­ket,” Mr Hard­ing told The Courier

Mail. “I’ve never seen any­thing like it.

“The po­lice came along scream­ing to get out, and we jumped in the car and got out,” he said.

Ar­riv­ing back yes­ter­day, he found a slightly crisp door, but lit­tle other dam­age.

A worker at IGA, which re

opened its doors at 2pm de­spite ru­mours of its demise on so­cial me­dia, said she was re­lieved to still have a job.

“I went to bed Mon­day night think­ing it was all gone,” she said.

Acting Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Darryl John­son said that he re­alised just how close Pere­gian had come to be­ing wiped off the map.

“Just take a drive along David Low Way to­day, I think you’ll re­alise just how close it came to be­ing an ab­so­lute cat­a­strophic event,” he said.

“I’d like to con­grat­u­late the fire ser­vice on the ex­cel­lent job that they’ve done.

“I don’t think we’ll re­alise un­til into the fu­ture just how they saved a town here”.

At its peak, the Pere­gian in­ferno was rag­ing across the equiv­a­lent of 540 foot­ball fields. A man­age­able fire pro­duces 2000kw of en­ergy. Queens­land Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vice In­spec­tor Chris White said that his crews were fight­ing a blaze that was pro­duc­ing 16,000kw of en­ergy at its front, and 4000kw along its flank.

“It was a phe­nom­e­nally hot fire,” he said.

“The speed and the ve­loc­ity and the amount of em­bers that were about would have shocked them. But they did what they did, they per­se­vered. We held our ground.”

Crews will re­main on the ground in the com­ing days, keep­ing an eye on any flare-ups out­side e the con­tain­ment lines.

“We have some me pre­dicted wind speeds, ds, that may be a prob­lem.

“But tech­ni­cally, cally, with the (aerial) sup­port that we are hit­ting this fire with at the mo­ment ev­ery­thing thing should be black­ened ed in that Pere­gian area,” Insp White said.

AS THE most intense of this week’s fire threat re­cedes across Queens­land, it is worth re­flect­ing on how much worse the dev­as­ta­tion could have been.

Thanks to the hard work of hun­dreds of fire­fight­ers, in­fer­nos were brought un­der con­trol, spot fires doused and prop­er­ties saved.

That may be lit­tle com­fort to those who lived in the 17 homes that were de­stroyed or 67 oth­ers that were dam­aged.

But we are lucky the de­struc­tion was not more wide­spread.

Given the in­ten­sity and range of fires that raged across the state, it is re­mark­able that no lives were lost and the dam­age was con­tained.

In a sign of the scale of the risk, Acting Pre­mier Jackie Trad said there were 519 bush­fire com­mu­nity warn­ings is­sued in the past eight days. This is al­most as many as the 540 is­sued in the two weeks of fires in cen­tral Queens­land last year that forced the evac­u­a­tion of the en­tire town­ship of Grace­mere.

At times of dis­as­ter, Queens­lan­ders have re­peat­edly shown they can pull to­gether. Many ar­eas of the state are ac­cus­tomed to deal­ing with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and they are of­ten times when the best of peo­ple is on dis­play.

Once again, vol­un­teers joined pro­fes­sional fire­fight­ers to work through the night to pro­tect their neigh­bour­hoods from flames.

Those who did so are heroes of their com­mu­ni­ties.

But un­like cy­clones and floods, many Queens­lan­ders may not be as used to the threat from fires as they need to be.

This is some­thing we must all work to ad­dress.

With more than 70 fires still burn­ing across the state and fur­ther hot, dry and windy con­di­tions pre­dicted, it is cru­cial that ev­ery­one is vig­i­lant about the risk.

Very high fire-dan­ger rat­ings re­main in place for parts of the state, in­clud­ing in cen­tral and north Queens­land.

Res­i­dents have been al­lowed back into many evac­u­ated ar­eas in the Gold Coast hinterland and on the Sun­shine Coast, but some ar­eas are still deemed dan­ger­ous.

As the past few days have demon­strated, the bush­fire threat can change rapidly.

All house­holds must en­sure they are pre­pared.

Many Queens­lan­ders en­joy the ben­e­fits of liv­ing in homes that are close to na­ture, but we must all be aware of the risks that come with this life­style.

Queens­land Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vices pro­vide ad­vice that should be fol­lowed by all, par­tic­u­larly if they live near bush­land.

Ba­sic prepa­ra­tion such as keep­ing gut­ters clear of leaves and stor­ing flammable rub­bish, fire­wood and gas bot­tles are log­i­cal ac­tions that all home­own­ers and res­i­dents should take.

Gar­dens should be main­tained and kept clear of litter and trees trimmed. And these steps should not be left un­til a fire is ap­proach­ing.

Res­i­dents should also think about what they would do if a fire threat­ened their home.

The de­ci­sion to evac­u­ate must of­ten be made quickly. It is worth prepar­ing a plan about how and when you would flee. Items such as mo­bile phones, med­i­ca­tions, iden­tity in­for­ma­tion and valu­ables should be kept in an eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble place.

For those who may con­tem­plate stay­ing to pro­tect their homes, it is even more cru­cial to pre­pare sur­vival kits with pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and equip­ment.

With such dev­as­ta­tion be­fore sum­mer has even be­gun, no one can af­ford to be com­pla­cent.

AMID THE RUB­BLE: Pam Mur­phy (main) at her home at Pere­gian (in­set top); and (in­set bot­tom) Peter Ea­glen, who lost his car to the in­ferno. Pic­ture: Lachie Mil­lard

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