Australia — A witness has described watching balls of flames hitting trees as the bushfires passed over his house on Black Saturday.
Peter Newman is the second lay witness to appear before the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Bushfires.
He told the commission that he and his wife sheltered an acquaintance and his two-year-old daughter who had already lost their home, as the bushfire approached Buxton, north-east of Melbourne.
Mr Newman said his house was saved by using sprinklers and preparing his property, and they were safe in the house as the fire passed over them.
“It went golden all around the house, through every window in the house it was golden simultaneously,” he said.
“We stayed inside for probably 10 or 15 minutes, something of that order, because that’s when the burning, radiant heat’s ferocious,” he said.
“From inside we could see out easily and watch the balls of flames hitting the deciduous trees around the house – where flames would go in and smoke would go out.
“We simply waited until balls of flames stopped going through the trees, because if you were in the way of those balls of flames, you were going to get fried just like the leaves were.
“You knew one minute it was lethal and the next minute you knew it was safe.”
Mr Newman says days before February 7, he knew bushfires were likely.
“All that week the weather forecasts had got progressively worse, and they started dynamite anyway, and they said Saturday’s going to be the worst on record,” he said.
“You’ve never seen anything as bad as this, and I’ve had people say, “But nobody told us!” You can’t get any plainer than that. They said this is going to be the worst day on record.”
He says on the morning of February 7, he had heard there were fires at nearby Badgers Creek and he had been keeping an eye out all morning for signs of fire.
“I had been standing at the skip talking to someone, and we were looking for a fire at Badger Creek in Healesville, which is about Narbethong direction, it’s over in that part of the horizon, and you couldn’t see a puff of smoke, you couldn’t see anything,” he said.
“I went back to the shed to have a cold can of soft drink, and I hadn’t finished drinking the soft drink, I’d picked up a book and was sitting in front of the fan when I reached down to switch the light on, it had been a bright sunny day and I looked out the window and the window was a solid column of smoke.
“So in between us standing there and talking, that column of smoke had come up right over the top of us, and it was thousands of feet high.”
He says it was a very unusual column of smoke.
“It was a straight column of smoke, it hadn’t gone big at the top,” he said.
“It had the sun directly behind it, it had white edges to it like cumulus nimbus, it was a strange sort of thing but a lot of colour, a red ochrey sort of smoke, and we knew because of the regen burns it’s a hot one. “