Bruthen survivors Ken and Sue Smith shared their tale to encourage those who live in a fire prone area to prepare early.
Sue and Ken have lived in their Bruthen home for over 30 years. Both long serving CFA volunteers with the Bruthen Fire Brigade, they know all too well the risk of fires in their area.
“We’ve never evacuated before – this time we were always going to evacuate – my husband is now asthmatic so I can’t fight a fire on my own and we can’t expect help if he has an asthma attack due to the smoke so we needed to get out,” Sue explained.
Sue and Ken prepared their house as best they could and evacuated to Sue’s son’s house in Lake Bunga.
“We prepared by wetting things down, we had run hoses, we had buckets of water everywhere, we cleaned up the yard as much as possible,” Sue said. “The fires had been going since November so we had been under stress for a long time.”
The fire came within two kilometres of Sue and Ken’s house – a wind change saved their town and saved their home.
“When we came back about 36 hours later there were lots of people who had also returned walking around looking quite dazed thinking wow the town is still here,” Sue said.
Sue and Ken have battled many fires over the years with CFA – once even caught in a burn-over at Cobungra near Mount Hotham in the 2003 fires. Yet despite taking shelter in a fire truck while flames leaped over their heads, Sue still says last fire season was the scariest she’s lived through.
“I felt I had no control over this fire – I wasn’t able to do anything. If we stayed we could put spot fires out but we had very little water in the town and no shelter,” Sue explained.
“It surprises me how emotional I still am. Coming into another fire season I have said I can’t do it again, I won’t do it again, but we will and we’ll prepare the place as much as we can.”
Sue says you can rebuild your home but saving your life is more important.
“Anyone who lives in a fire prone area get ready, prepare yourself, and really consider whether you need to stay – make the call and get out.”
Prepare your property; it can minimise property damage even if you leave early:
- Move furniture, woodpiles and mulch away from windows, decks and eaves
- Prune tree branches so they are not overhanging the roof or touching walls
- Keep grass shorter than 10cm. Regularly remove leaves and twigs
- Don’t have plants higher than 10cm in front of windows or glass doors
- Before you leave, make sure you remove all flammable items from around your home. Houses have been lost from things as simple as embers landing on a doormat
- Check that your home and contents insurance is current and includes a level of cover in line with current building standards and regulations.
Please note: Restrictions are in place across Victoria due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To find out more about what restrictions apply in your area – including provision for those who’ve received a Fire Prevention Notice – visit coronavirus.vic.gov.au.
In the lead-up to summer, CFA will be running Fire Safety Essentials online sessions to help Victorians understand their fire risk and help you prepare. Check What’s On in your area.
Visit cfa.vic.gov.au for more information about bushfire planning and preparation, and about leaving early.