Australia — The families of three truck drivers killed when a ferocious fire ripped through Boorabbin National Park last December have struggled through their first Christmas without the men and with few answers about the tragedy.
A year after good mates and neighbours Lewis Bedford, 60, and Robert Taylor, 46, both of Two Rocks, and Trevor Murley, 53, of Hovea, died in their trucks when they were trapped in the fast-moving inferno 100km west of Coolgardie, no inquest has been held.
The men were part of an unescorted convey of 15 vehicles allowed through a Department of Environment and Conservation roadblock at Coolgardie on December 30, despite warnings the 160km-stretch of Great Eastern Highway between the Goldfields town and Southern Cross was unsafe and expected strong wind gusts could result in unpredictable fire behaviour.
The police arson squad investigating the circumstances of the mens deaths and why the DEC, the lead agency handling the bushfire, reopened the highway handed its report to the coroner in September.
But hopes of a public inquiry before the next bushfire season were dashed with the courts schedule full until early 2009, although it is understood emergency services agencies have already finalised new guidelines for bushfire road closures in a bid to prevent similar tragedies.
Mr Taylors brother Andrew said his family would like an explanation about the disaster and anyone at fault should be held liable. But nothing could bring his brother or the other men back.
He (Robert) left on his truck run on Christmas Eve and that was the last time I spoke to him, he said. On Christmas Day I remembered thinking about him being on the road and wondering where he would eat Christmas dinner. Now you relive last year but knowing different circumstances. Im just trying to keep things together.
Estelle Dragun, Lewis Bedfords sister, said she believed the authorities had already learnt a great deal about the horrific tragedy.
I think thats the important thing, that we learn and we dont make the same mistakes again, she said. Its such harsh country out there. She wished the families of the other men well and said her family was trying to remember her brother the best way they could.
Trevor Murleys brother Ross said his family would privately commemorate his brothers death.
Friends of the three truck drivers have created a heartfelt tribute at the site where they died, planting trees in a bid to bring life to the blackened area and leaving mementos of flowers and trucking posters.
But the white crosses they erected provide a stark memorial on the desolate stretch of Great Eastern Highway. A year after the mens deaths, the shrine of waist-high crosses bearing their names and photographs stands out from the still-blackened landscape.