Monday, 22 March 2021

Fire in the Valley

By Chris R.

On the 1st of February it was a hot and gusty day. With the implementation of a week long Covid lockdown the previous evening, I was feeling fortunate to be working from home given the summery forecast. The fire danger was severe, again, and the animals were hot and restless.  

Around midday, smoke appeared in the east. While organising yet another run of the irrigation to cool the aviaries, this plume, attributed to a structural fire in distant Wooroloo, was growing. The smoke was blowing parallel to the Valley and reports of its farmland location, where it would be ‘easily contained’, provided comfort.  

At around 1.30pm, I moved my laptop to the kitchen to allow a full view of the east while working. The growing smoke plume was distracting, and by 3pm, work was packed up. Another check of the fire map spurred my decision to contact our fire response volunteers, just to be safe.  

At 4.15pm, the Valley received the first of three mobile phone emergency warnings from DFES. Our fire plan was enacted - sheep in the east flock were moved into the runway, carriers were placed near aviaries and the fire pumps again tested. Ten volunteers gathered under the outdoors marquee, making notes while watching the online fire map rapidly change, as did the colour of the sky.


One of our volunteers, who also volunteers with the local brigade and was fighting the fire in the east, messaged an update just before 5pm. The wind was growing and a slight change would take the path of the fire directly to our friends at Happy Hooves Sanctuary, just half an hour away.

The decision was made to support the crew at Happy Hooves. We left some volunteers at PVAS with a fire unit in case of a wind change. Seven volis, four vehicles and the Valley’s second fire unit began the journey north, passing ‘road closed’ signs and a sea of floats, trailers and animals all heading in the opposite direction. The smoke was drifting and the sky was orange. The faces of those heading out reflected our own concerns about the rapidly changing situation.

Once at Happy Hooves, plans were discussed, poultry collected and placed in carriers, and the last of the large animals moved to safe open areas.  By 6.30pm, the glow in the south was growing brighter, the faint roar becoming louder and the smell of smoke stonger. It was a long hour watching, waiting and planning – uncertain of  the trajectory of the firey monster reaching the scarp ahead.  Loud bangs were unnerving, and headlights moving out of the fire front were sobering – so many people in so much danger beyond the ridge.  The air support fire fighters headed back to base as nightfall approached. Help from above would not be back until the following morning.

The fire kept a steady westerly direction, moving along the ridge, yet remaining distant from Happy Hooves. Two additional helpers arrived with reports of roads which were accessible, so we mapped our journey back to the Valley in front of the head fire, knowing that HHFS would be safe for the night and we could return to tend the animals at home before all the roads were closed.

It was a long night back at the Valley. Hourly checks of conditions were made, each time we were glad that both PVAS and HHFS were safe. The fire was sitting between the two properties. The roads on which we had travelled just hours earlier were closed, littered with burnt trees and power poles. The fire continued west and more properties were evacuated. Our thoughts stayed with all those in its path and its wake, not realising how far it would actually travel before contained.

On the Tuesday, a message from SAFE Bullsbrook indicated that they were now in danger. All of their animals were evacuated with the exception of three of their biggest goats so we hurriedly hitched up the trailer to collect the important caprine cargo. Billy, Molly and George were soon on the road to the Valley as the smoke in the east continued to grow.  

By Friday, the Wooroloo Fire had travelled 26 km and destroyed 86 human homes and thousands of animal homes.  Paddocks were blackened and fences gone, but already the community was rallying to help those who had lost so much. The impact of the Wooroloo Fire will be felt for months, and years, to come. Possum Valley was safe and received no animals to care for from the blaze. We urge anyone wishing to donate to those affected to see the ‘Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund’ on Facebook.

Possum Valley will be continuing with its bushfire ready activities throughout the coming year and would love help at our monthly ‘Bushfire Ready Busy Bees’. With over 200 animals in care, evacuation is not an option, so being ready for fire is a priority. We would love to see you there!