Thank god for the firies

Surrounded on four sides by flames, laying face-down on the cement with a wet tea-towel over her head, Hansie Armour thought she was in for it.

The dogs were squealing.

Pine trees at the garden fence were “exploding like volcanoes”.

All the Childowla Road resident could do now was wait for the fireball to pass.

The fire had licked back around from the back of Bald Hill and taken her, her family, and the several fire units who were defending her home, by surprise.

It was only the sheer amount of fire preparedness and constant wetting that saved her home.

“Right at the beginning, the trucks were working out how to defend. We thought the fire had missed us and went around Bald Hill… But within seconds the boys [a fire crew stationed several metres away up a hill] yelled out ‘It’s here!’,” she told the Tribune.

As she turned to look, flames hit the pine trees behind the dog run.

“Pine trees blew up like volcanoes… and we all hit the ground… We grabbed our bucketsful of wet towels and laid flat on the cement.”

One fire crew watered the building where Hansie, her husband Gary, daughter Jan Young, son Linn Armour and other firefighters were lying flat on the ground. Another crew watered the corrugated iron dog kennels and one man bravely raced to unlock their runs so they could escape the inferno.

“The dogs were squealing and we thought we’d lost them. We thought we were in for it, it was so hot as it went over us.

“But it doesn’t take long for a fireball to pass, and you get up and get on with it,” she said.

“We managed to save the house, it came within a couple of feet of the back of the house,” she said.

“It came unbearably close. How they saved it, I don’t know.”

Two days later and it is clear to see the devastation.

The grass is burnt to a crisp right up to the kennels. Several outbuildings have burnt down, including a cook's quarters, machinery shed and the hayshed. Six months of stock feed is gone. Kilometres of fencing, which is not covered by insurance, is destroyed. The large 1950s cement fibro home was saved, albeit only because embers which were falling onto its roof were being religiously snuffed out.

The property, 'Te Kooti', is situated about seven kilometres down Childowla Road. Hansie thinks about 300 acres of grassland on the property was burnt.

It is too early to assess the amount of stock damage. They were still euthanasing injured sheep on Friday. It would be a week before they could put a figure on it, she said, because they had to turn each sheep over, inspect their hooves for heat blisters, and try to fend off infections of the hooves and lungs which might not emerge for a week.

They had put down over 250 so far - a small loss from the 4500-strong head they carry, she said.

“Our losses are very light, considering the ferocity of the fire and the speed it travelled."

She'd first noticed heavy smoke about 4pm on Tuesday but was led to believe it was smoke drift from a fire at Tarcutta.

She didn't know it then, but a far bigger threat was racing towards them from Jugiong.

Luckily, her family had decided to muster their 4500 sheep as a precaution. Shearers and farm workers had helped them.

“Our conclusion is that this house does not want to die - we'd better renovate!"

For more photos from Childowla Road and for shots of Hansie's place click here.

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