Nation on alert as bushfires spread, Gillard warns NSW residents to be vigilant

Stories of survival emerge from Tas inferno

07 January 2013

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Australia —  Stories of survival and courage are emerging from the bushfires which have devastated entire communities across parts of Tasmania.

Firefighters are still battling blazes and about 100 people are still unaccounted for after fires tore across the state, destroying more than 100 homes.

One image obtained by the ABC shows residents taking shelter on a boat ramp at Murdunna, south-east of Hobart, on Friday evening.

Around 20 people, two dogs and a parrot were forced to hide under the nearby jetty as the fire front swept over.

By Sunday night, many of those who had endured the ordeal were still thought to be trapped on the Tasman Peninsula which has been cut from the rest of the state by the bushfires.

In the midst of the Friday evening fires Ashley Zanol was carting water to firefighters when his truck was surrounded by flames on either side.

“The fireball… the trees just exploded. It’s one of the most scariest things,” he said.

Despite the danger he kept going and delivered the much-needed water to firefighters.

But he says he is no hero and it is the firefighters who deserve praise.

“If you keep these guys fed with water you keep people safe,” he said.

Dunalley resident Sandy Gray, who rode into the town on his quad bike to see the damage, told AM his family survived by taking to the water.

“They hopped in the car and went further along, nearly to Connelly’s Marsh, and they ended up on a point and as the fires got nearer, they were in the water and just walked out further and further,” he said.

“My brother-in-law was there trying to save the cars. They’d driven the cars onto the rocky shore. It was a bit desperate.”

Another local Greg Mann says he and his 10-year-old daughter Florence huddled under a jetty.

“We got in the water and hide under a jetty up to our chest [in water],” he said.,

“When the worst of the fire went I got back out of the water and fought some spot fires and saved a bit of stuff.”

Across the state

The isolated community of Half Moon Bay, south of Bicheno, was defenceless when the fire came roaring through.

Accessible only by four-wheel drive, there was nothing firefighters could do to save the small settlement and up to 15 homes and shacks were lost in the area.

The blaze just missed Harvey’s Farm Road, where more tales of survival are emerging.

When Jan Butcher was told to evacuate, she refused to leave her horse behind.

Instead she endured a terrifying 15-minute ride to safety.

“He decided that instead of just going along at a leisurely old horse pace, we cantered sideways and jumped and spun and carried on, and got in here at absolute record time,” she said.

Arabella Gaze had 18 people staying at her guest houses.

She ordered them into town, before fleeing to the waterfront.

“This huge front just came blazing past, it was horrific, and I could hear it sort of thundering,” she said.

Del and Jock Delagarno were helicoptered out of burning Boomer Bay and have described the inferno as it hit.

“As the fire came through what had been a really bright red sky turned absolutely pitch black. It was if it was the darkest midnight you’ve ever seen – it was absolutely horrendous,” Del said.

On Sunday afternoon they found out their home was one of only six that survived but they do not know whether they will live there again.

As residents are warned to remain vigilant about the fires still burning out of control around them, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is due to fly into the disaster zone later today.

Ms Gillard will tour one of the worst-hit towns Dunalley, on the south-east coast, where around 85 properties have been lost.

The Federal Government has activated disaster recovery payments for affected residents and the Red Cross has launched a Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal.

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