We woke early the next morning and, while listening to the radio over breakfast, we heard that the fire was getting worse and the area was still evacuated. During the night both Kitty and I felt terrible that we had to leave the dogs behind. We were also not sure where we would be staying that night. As I mentioned, Hobart was pretty much booked out due to a festival in town. We checked out of the caravan park and drove to Kitty’s mother’s house in Sandy Bay, just outside Hobart. We went there for several reasons:
- We wanted to check in with her as she was worried about our safety.
- She had internet access (which Kitty and I did not have) so we could book accommodation and find a dog kennel to take the dogs.
- We had brought too many things from the house. I wanted to unload them to save carrying them everywhere and risking them to loss or theft. We also needed room in the boot of the van to carry the dogs to the kennel.
- I wanted to leave my little car at her house. Both to save on fuel and to ensure Kitty and I could travel together.
The kids relaxed and watched some cartoons while Kitty and I got to work. I booked some accommodation out at Port Arthur (having a large family can be a hassle for booking rooms) and Kitty found a kennel out at Brighton that would take the dogs, although we needed to drop them off shorty. After lunch we started the drive home to get the dogs. I wanted to grab a couple of additional items while at home as well as check my livestock.
The drive up the mountain was very intense. It was difficult to see very far due to the large amount of smoke in the air. We passed many areas of blackened bush as could see the fire crews working hard. We also passed two police officers checking IDs to ensure only residents gained access (as well as attempting to warn us from going up to our home). We drove slowly up the roads to ensure we could stop should we need to due to the limited visibility. When we were 50 metres from our driveway we had to stop as 4 fire vehicles were blocking the road. I had to get out and check with them. They advised me that the fire was very close, yet the way ahead was safe enough. While talking to them I noticed the whole area on the other side of the road to my home was blackened and smoking. It looked like they had worked hard to stop the fire from crossing the road. I learnt later that the night before, the fire had charged towards my home. The fire trucks made a line up the road and stood their ground. They sprayed the bush constantly and prevented the fire from jumping the road to my property. The reason for this was apparently due to the fact that if my property went, there would be little chance to stop it before it hit Hobart city.
I drove past them and came to our house. The dogs were overjoyed to see us and we were relieved to see them. As I unlocked the house and started to gather the items I wished to take, as well as send a message to my friends/family that we were safe, I could hear helicopters starting to fly over the house. I looked outside and I could see the choppers collecting water from a neighbouring property and dropping them on or next to my property. This was very scary and caused me to rush back into the house and complete my work. As I started to load the car I noticed that ash was starting come down like snow, which was freaking me out. I was thinking that if ash was falling, embers could easily do the same. I loaded the children and the dogs into the car, telling everyone we had to go. I then noticed smoke coming out of the forest on my property. This was enough for me. We drove off and counted ourselves lucky. It was one of the scariest things I have ever encountered… with the roar of the choppers and seeing them drop water so close to my house, with the smoke and ash, it was very intense and I am sure I will remember it for the rest of my life.
We arrived at Brighton Park Dog kennel an hour later and it looked like a pleasant place, with large pens and water for the dogs. While we did not want to leave the dogs at a kennel, it was safer for them than being at home. Once they were checked in we were surprised when the manager advised us that we were not being charged for the kennelling as we were evacuated for the fire. That was such a nice gesture and we thanked the manager for their kindness.
It was now time for us to take the 2 hour drive to Port Arthur. As we were driving we received a call from the Department of Housing who asked us if we were checking in for emergency accommodation. We had heard in the news reports that people who had been evacuated should check in at the Derwent Entertainment Centre for accommodation, yet we did not want to go there. Both Kitty and I had visions of the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina in the states and we did not want a part of that. We advised the caller that we were heading to Port Arthur for the night, yet when the caller told us that she had already secured us accommodation at Wrest Point Casino. We immediately turned around and, over the phone, cancelled our booking at Port Arthur. Wrest point was much closer to home, nicer, and it would not cost us anything. We could afford to pay the $25 cancellation fee with the Port Arthur place.
Wrest Point was a lot nicer than the caravan park. We had an adjoining room, with Kitty and the girls in one, and the boys and I in the other. We enjoyed the best burger I have ever had from a local shop called “Burger got soul” and ½ an hour after dinner we went to the indoor pool at the hotel and the children relaxed in the water before bed.
Listening to the radio in the morning we heard that the roads to my property we now closed to all traffic. We had to check out of Wrest Point and our next accommodation was a place called “Lindisfarne Motor Inn”. We drove over the river to discover that the motel looked like it was built in the 1950s. The staff were friendly, which was nice, yet the room smelt of old cigarettes and was cramped. The bathroom was tiny and there was no kitchen. We decided to spend as little time there as we had to, and to spend the afternoon at the Aquatic centre. I needed to go home first and try to get to the property. I was worried about my livestock as they had not been watered for more than a day. I encountered a police road block on the way to my home and I was told that I would not be able to get to my house due to the road closures. I went to the local fire station and chatted with the people there. The fire fighters were very friendly and helpful. One of them showed me a map of the fire effected area and told me of the fire which they stopped from coming onto my property. I was told stories of the dangers they faced and different experiences related to trees falling and missing them by inches. I thanked them all for the work they were doing and travelled back to Kitty in the motel. We took the children to the Aquatic Centre and I joined them in the pool. As we had forgotten to pack swimmers in our bug out bags we all swam in shorts (our girls swam wearing their older brother’s shorts and no shirt). The kids really relaxed at the pool, enjoying themselves and forgetting the problems of the bushfire. While I was looking after the kids in the paddling pools, Kitty watched from the side. While watching Kitty started chatting with one of the mothers whose son was playing with Riley. As we were leaving the centre we were surprised when the woman that Kitty had been talking to came over and gave us an envelope containing two family visit to the Aquatic Centre that she had bought for us. The woman had tears in her eyes as she handed the gift to Kitty. Such a kind gesture and we never knew anything about her. On the way home we bought some chips and ate them by the river before going back to the motel and to then to sleep.