Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fight or Flee, take two

Will you know in advance that an approaching bushfire is slow burning or one that explodes your house? If it is an exploding fire, get out of there, without doubt.

Sprinklers saved some houses, not all. I haven't paid much attention to fire coverage by our newspapers. Radio and to a much lesser extent tv, has kept me informed. I will turn to the newspapers when I am up for some analyzing of what happened.

But I did take 15 minutes or so today to read through some of tales at The Age and the Herald Sun. Tales of running through fire. Tales of failed but approved fire plans. Tales of idiots caught out and tales of clever and prepared people caught out. There is no end to the variations.

Below is an edit of tale by a neighbour of a respected, retired, newsreader who, along with his wife, died and a perfect illustration of why to flee not fight. It comes from the Herald Sun and is quite a poignant read.

JASON Lynn used what he thought was his last breath to tell his wife and children he loved them.

The father of two and neighbour of deceased newsman Brian Naylor lay on the muddy banks of his dam, clinging to life, as the Kinglake bushfire raged around him.

His harrowing ordeal began on Saturday afternoon when the Kinglake fire descended on the small town.

Mr Lynn's wife, Ruth, 39, fled with their two children, Joshua, five, and Julia, three, hours earlier for the safety of Yea.

But Mr Lynn, 35, stayed behind using fire pumps, generators and sprinklers to protect his cedar house.

But when he saw the flames crashing through the trees Mr Lynn knew he was in for the fight of his life.

"You do fire guard meetings and they show you what it (fire) is like", Mr Lynn said.

"It comes along the ground but this thing just came in the sky on the trees.

"When I was in the fire I thought 'this is just like hell'."

As the fire advanced Mr Lynn tried desperately to save his home, throwing buckets of water on the flames after his fire pump and hose exploded in the heat.

Gas tanks at his house exploded around him before the fire finally reached his house and caused it to erupt in a ball of flames.

With nothing left to save, Mr Lynn made a break for the safety of the roof of his shed.

"I burnt my hands, even with gloves, just opening up the door to get in the shed," Mr Lynn said.

"I got a ladder and climbed up with buckets of water. The fire was all around and I was trying to put that out, but the shed caught on fire from inside. It just exploded."

Mr Lynn's prized racing car and cherished tools his father left him before his death were consumed in the fire ball.

A wall of flame pierced the roof of the shed and blocked Mr Lynn from escaping off the roof and down the ladder.

"I just hung on to the spouting and the spouting fell down and I just collapsed down on the ground," Mr Lynn said.

"I still had enough energy, so I just started going towards the paddock.

"I just got to that point when you are running and running and you can't run anymore. There was just no air, it was like you were breathing vapour."

Crawling on his hands and knees through thick smoke Mr Lynn felt his way along the ground to the dam at the back of his property. It was then his boss Ziad Ghobril phoned him and urged him to use every last ounce of energy to make it to the safety of the dam.

"I just kept going and I could feel the bank of the dam," he said.

"I felt like passing out so I didn't go in the dam very far, I just lay in it and put my head in the mud on the side."

Mr Lynn laid in the mud in the dam for one hour waiting for help to arrive. He kept his mobile phone pressed against his head as friends and his local minister Shane Lepp prayed for him and tried to keep him conscious.

"I thought I don't know how much longer I can breathe for. He said "I don't know if they phoned again . . . I was sort of delirious.

"They were trying to tell me stuff and I just said 'just listen to me. Tell my wife and my kids that I love them'. I said I can't hang on much longer."

Mr Lynn doesn't remember much of the next few hours except for the sound of voices on the other end of the phone, and the howling and screaming of animals burning to death in nearby paddocks.

"I could hear horns and stuff buzzing but I couldn't shout out", Mr Lynn said.

"The next thing I heard someone say 'I found someone down here'.

"I just remember feeling their glove on my face.

"He said to me 'if you are still alive now you'll be all right'," Mr Lynn said.

"He said if you have made it this far you'll be right."

Mr Lynn's saviours carried him out on a blanket. The father of two spent the next three days in the Northern Hospital in Epping.

Mr Lynn yesterday thanked the fire fighters who saved his life and the staff at the hospital.

He said it was a miracle he was alive and it was by the grace of God that he survived.


  1. The footage on the news of the aftermath this morning bore a lot of similarities to Hiroshima.

  2. I bawled my eyes out reading that article Andrew. There is so much devastation it is unfathomable. But, the generosity and genuine care the community has shown people is so amazing also.

  3. Brian, and many descriptions of the fire being like a bomb going off.

    Cazzie, he did not sound like an idiot and also seemed to well prepared.

  4. Anonymous4:16 pm

    The catastrophe has brought out many unused emotions recently and amazing stories of survival. I'd like to hear what future-focused policies the government(s) have in mind? Surely we can stop it with the wood-built homes already?

  5. Brick veneer, tiled roof and sealed eaves might do a lot better.