The fire that will not leave Killabakh alone

The fire at Killabakh as seen from the Sutherland's property. Photo by Deirdre Sutherland
The fire at Killabakh as seen from the Sutherland's property. Photo by Deirdre Sutherland

It has been a long five days for Killabakh residents Deidre and Ian Sutherland.

On Friday afternoon, with the bigger towns of Taree and Wingham surrounded by billowing smoke clouds, she raced from Taree negotiating roadblocks to get back home to her property.

There were reports of a fire that was heading that way.

"The fire started coming over the back of Mooral Creek on Friday and that fire was just an extension of this huge Rumba Dump thing which has spotted fires all over the place," Deirdre said.

"It's like a cancer just reaching tentacles everywhere and you never know where they're going to pop up next."

It's like a cancer just reaching tentacles everywhere and you never know where they're going to pop up next.

Deirdre Sutherland

On Saturday and Sunday they watched it slowly and steadily burn up their property, grateful that it was cooler and less windy.

"We were really lucky that we got all the fuel load off our property on Saturday and Sunday.

"It just burnt right down to a really good spot - in the creek beyond our house so we knew that when Tuesday was going to happen we were in a good position to take care of the surrounding area around our house.

Fire at Killbakh. Photo by George Hoad

Fire at Killbakh. Photo by George Hoad

"We've got sort of a green oasis here; it's more spread out and we're on a flat, we've got roof sprinklers and watering systems all around the house," she said, explaining why the couple elected to stay instead of evacuate.

"We stayed at our place the whole time because we knew our place would be safe and we could look after our place.

"And I've seen the way fire behaves in our valley.

There were fires that were spotted all through that and on Monday night we could see that they looked like glowing tigers' eyes, they were just on the hillside there.

Deirdre Sutherland

"But what happened yesterday (Tuesday) was, because of the wind that had been picking up from Monday evening, a massive surge of fire came up gain north of Killabakh from Mooral Creek and fires that had spotted on the hills below Mount Killabakh.

"There were fires that were spotted all through that and on Monday night we could see that they looked like glowing tigers' eyes, they were just on the hillside there.

"It was the excessive wind plus the fuel load that had been there for so long that when you get a crowning fire and embers just surging off in the air... "

At Deidre's request, her son Leo came up from the Hunter on the weekend to assist Killabakh locals in their fight to keep the fires at bay.

A member of the Killabakh fire brigade, he put a water tanker on the back of his bike trailer and another one on the back of his ute.

He and his friend, Josh Bowden spent the weekend helping out by filling up water tanks for people who were defending their properties, and putting out spot fires from the spray unit on his ute.

One of the spot fires was at the Killabakh station itself, surrounded by the cars of the firies who were out exhausting themselves fighting fires, and a tree near Killabakh Hall, which is being used as a base for providing food for firefighters from South Australia and the local brigade.

Thankfully, both the station and the hall are untouched by fire.

The Sutherlands did not lose their house, but not all in Killabakh were so lucky.

"One neighbour lost his property, it was the first property to go up the top end of Killabakh.

"He came down and he was just devastated.

"He's had ill health and he's been really unwell, and he's just got his little place renovated and bang, everything's gone.

"He's in a bit of shock.

"And then (the fire) jumped over Comboyne Road and took out properties from 2109 Comboyne Road and took out five or six properties up there.

"They're all safe, but their properties are just wiped out.

At the time of writing, Killabakh is still without power, and Deirdre just reported that the "upper Killabakh eastern side is ablaze again."

This story The fire that will not leave Killabakh alone first appeared on Manning River Times.