You think it will never happen to you, but when it does, your rental world can change forever.
Ours was a rental operation at Wye River, a quiet holiday stopping off place on the ‘Great Ocean Road’ 200km south of Melbourne Australia.
But on a searing hot Christmas Day, our lives were turned inside out when a fireball ripped through the township destroying almost all in its path. It was a natural disaster of significant proportions, and 500 lives were at stake.
The story started benignly five days earlier. There was a lightning strike deep in the bush just 3km from our Sea Zen house and our Treetops rental.
‘No problem’, the fire Incident Controller said, ‘it’s quietly burning deep in a ravine and we are taking precautions. Enjoy your Christmas…’
But in the morning of Christmas day, an unexpectedly fierce northerly wind had ripped the fire from the ravine into dry forest and on a path to our little seaside village.
Deaths had happened previously
We asked ourselves – how many people would die that day? We’d had a briefing months before that reminded us that we were living in one of the worst fire risks places in the world. Bad things had happened as hot winds dried forests to tinder point. In 1983, ‘Ash Wednesday’ fires had killed 47 people in southern Australia and ‘Black Saturday’, just 7 years ago had killed 173 people in fires around Melbourne. Most died leaving at the last minute. After the briefing, they asked who would leave early in a fire? Many, not all would leave. Some might stay, but would they survive?
We had done our preparations. But we had guests in our Treetops rental and our Sea Zen rental.
Communications are difficult in our village, just one mobile carrier, but we were ready. The Treetops guests had our loan mobile and our loan wifi dongle.
The talk with our guests
The day before Christmas we’d had a talk with our guests. ‘The fire folks say all is OK, but we want you to be ready. There are emergency backpacks for you to take to the beach, but we want you to keep your mobile on and keep the FireReady app on to give you warnings. If they say leave, just go.’
We left for a family Christmas, 5hrs drive away, thinking all was well.
At 11 am on Christmas day, the fire broke out of the ravine watched by helicopters. My FireReady app went crazy. ‘Leave now.’
I rang Diane at Treetops. ‘Have you seen the warning? It’s time to go…. Now.’
‘Like we discussed? But should I pack my stuff?’
My answer would be costly, but one I never regretted. ‘ No, we’ll cover it, just go straight to the car and drive to Apollo Bay, OK’
‘OK, going now’
One down, one to go.
The other guests had had the same talk with me the day earlier and were also gone in seconds. All calm, gone.
The fire would totally destroy Treetops.
Treetops before the fire. A proud three story fairy tale house beloved by several thousand past guests.
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