Published: 9 Apr 2009
Peter surveys the destruction from the top of a mountain looking down into the Glenburn Valley population 179 in the Yarra Ranges northeast of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
The smoke haze covers everything. A small fire is still burning to the west.
Just imagine Gaza and thats pretty much what youve got a picture off, he said.
Peter Gray was in Tasmania on a motorcycle ride on the Saturday afternoon he heard about the fires. February 8.
He rang his wife.
Things are pretty bad here, she said. Theres smoke everywhere, embers everywhere.
The phone cut out.
There I was standing in Tassie while they were confronting a fire storm back home, he said. What I felt in my heart, you know? Im over there, theyre here. And theres nothing I can do.
Another 10 minutes and Peter got through again.
I think Im going to die. Debbie was screaming into the phone.
I love you, Peter said.
He could hear everything over the phone line as the fire storm rolled down the valley.
Imagine a horizontal meteorite, barrelling down the mountain. Exploding, he said. Imagine being on the telephone talking to your wife when all you can hear is 100 freight trains roaring in the background. There goes our house. Boom. There go the gas cylinders.
I love you, she said.
Then the phone went dead again.
That freaked me out. I thought shed gone too. I thought Id lost everything. I thought Id lost my whole family.
Peter rang again and again. Nothing. The phone was dead.
Then after two hours the phone rang. Debbie answered.
I started crying, said Peter. They were alive. She had sheltered with a neighbour and the two girls. Once I knew they were all right
I didnt care about anything else.
Id lost everything. My first house I ever bought 25 years ago was ash. Id just finished a heap of renovations. My investment property at King Lake was destroyed. The new ride-on mower was gone. But that stuff doesnt matter. Its just shit. Im just so happy that were alive.
So many people are dead. So many people I know. Theyre gone. We lost nine close personal friends. Danny and his whole family. Dead. The six of them. Penny. We dont know about some of them yet. Were still waiting.
Peter was on the first plane the next morning. His daughter picked him up at Melbourne airport. They took the back roads.
Their local pub in Glenburn had exploded. It was all gone
Everythings just black, he said. Just blackness. Black sticks of trees. Cars run head on into each other.
The home was just rubble.
She was standing there among the ashes. I started crying. She started crying. The dogs came up to say hello.
When Peters mates in the diving industry learnt of what happened they gave money. The union gave $2,000. The CSO Venturer gave $5,000 from the divers'rolling fund.
Id like to thank everyone who has helped, he said. I havent been able to ring everyone. Thank you so much for your help. Thank you to everyone who has helped. The divers, the seafarers. The boys have been fantastic. Thank you so much.
Maritime workers raised $10,000 for Peter and his family. Another $150,000 has gone to the Red Cross Appeal.
Laurie Payton, retired wharfie and Patrick dispute veteran has seen a fair bit in his day. And more than a few fires. He has been a volunteer fire fighter going on 27 years.
Ive been to some big fires but nothing like this, he said. Laurie was in his hometown of Flowerdale, 90 kilometres out of Melbourne,
on evacuation duty when the fires came roaring into town.
His job was to get everyone out to safety, including his wife and son, 24.
I was at the fire station, he said. When I knew it was coming, we started evacuating people back north to Yea. It was chaotic.
People were running everywhere. I could hear it coming, the roar of the fire. Cars were broken down and stalling and people were starting to panic.
They got nearly everyone out. Everyone that is except those who chose to stay.
We can only advise people to get out, he said. We dont have the authority to force them to go. Some people stayed behind and some of them got killed. We lost about 10-12 people. People I know died four in one family. Id known them 32 years and theyre all dead. Its pretty bad. All up we lost over 200 people in the state and they are still looking for bodies.
Laurie said most of the town got burnt out. His house was burnt to the ground.
We lost a lot of houses, he said. In Silver Creek and Silver Parrott theyre all gone. Id say thered be three left out of about 80. Its the worst Ive seen since I joined up in 1982.
Its a shocking site, he said. Its like an atomic bomb has been dropped on the place. It looks like Hiroshima. Everything got burnt cars, caravans, theyre all gone.
But the fires continue and those, like Peter, who lost everything, will take years to rebuild their lives. Members who wish to donate should contact:
The Maritime Mining & Power Credit Union. BSB No. 802884, Account No. 4626 S2 (reference: Victoria Bushfire Fund)