When Ash Wednesday came through Victoria and South Australia we thought we’d never see anything like it again in our lifetimes.
Yesterday we did.
I want to tell this story, as told to me by my father, about a friend of ours who survived the Ash Wednesday fires. It gives you an idea of what it must be like to survive a bushfire.
Our friend Sam (name changed) was living in the one of the worst hit areas on that Wednesday in 1983. After deciding to move to safer ground he got in his car and started driving out of the danger area.
He came across a woman and her young son who asked if they could go with him in the car. They were afraid too.
The three of them were driving along the bush road to safety when the fire reached them. “Get down on the floor” he instructed them both. The mother covered her son with her body and they each cowered on the car floor in the front seats.
The fire reached the road. The car started to heat up. The mother panicked and tried to open the door to get out. Sam tried to hold her but she was too strong in her panic. She opened the door and ran across the road. She only made it a few steps before she fell and the fire consumed her. Sam stopped the boy from running somehow, and they both managed to stay in the car.
As the car heated the acrylic seats melted into their skin, burning the skin from Sams back and legs. The boy too was burnt.
But they were alive.
Minutes later a police car came down the road and they transferred to the police car.
On the way to the town hospital the police car was waved over by a man in the town who was clearly panicked. “I can’t find my wife and son. Have you seen a woman and a little boy of 6 years old?”, he said to the cop. The little boy in the back seat said, “Don’t you recognise me Dad.”
The man’s son died later in hospital.
Sam had burns to around 80% of his body and was placed in a burns unit, under a germ-free tent, for 12 months. He was surrounded by other burn victims from the fires. After 6 months all those around him had succumbed to their injuries and died.
After 12 months Sam was discharged. His relationship with his wife didn’t survive the trauma. He lost most of one of his hands. His back and legs are only scar tissue. But he was alive.
This is what it means to be in a bushfire.