Retreat from deadly Black Saturday fire ‘realistic’

Retreat from deadly Black Saturday fire ‘realistic’

03 March 2010

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Australia —  LAST-MINUTE evacuation might have been possible from the “street of death” where 21 people, including five children, died on Black Saturday, Victoria’s bushfires royal commission has heard.

In evidence to the commission, police forensic scientist John Kelleher said evacuation of residents from Pine Ridge Road in Kinglake West, while perilous, would have been possible at almost any time until the arrival of the firefront.

The 11th-hour escape of several residents from the street showed evacuation was a “realistic proposition” even after that, “albeit one calling for considerable bravery and determination”.

Several Pine Ridge Road residents, including a mother with three young children killed in the fire, were turned back to their homes by the CFA at Kinglake West, the commission was told. Every house along the road was subsequently destroyed by fire.

Victoria Police Phoenix Taskforce head Paul Hollowood agreed under cross-examination the residents may have been turned back because the direction they were taking was heading into the path of the fire.

The commission heard details of the final hours in the life of Eileen Gillespie, who died at 1 Pine Ridge Road, 32km from the point of ignition of the fire earlier in the day.

At 6pm, as he evacuated, the commission heard, Robert Richings saw Ms Gillespie’s home “engulfed in flames”.

Two days later, detectives located Ms Gillespie’s remains in a bath tub, in which it appeared she had attempted to shelter from the fire. Small animal bones were found with her remains.
The hearings continue.

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