St Helens bushfire: Residents evacuated by boat after homes threatened

St Helens bushfire: Residents evacuated by boat after homes threatened

20 October 2014

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Australia — About 30 St Helens residents had to be evacuated from a nearby boat ramp late on Sunday afternoon as the blaze threatened properties.

Another resident used his boat to rescue his children after they were cut off by the fire.

St Helens Marine Rescue president John Deering helped evacuate locals.

“There were people with medical conditions so were brought to the boat ramp while the police were going around telling everyone to evacuate,” he said.

“[There was] probably about 50-odd people at the boat ramp, they brought all their gear, trailers and boats and caravans and everything.”

Anthony Offer used his oyster boat to rescue his children and their babysitter who were also waiting on a boat ramp.

He said it was a frightening experience.

“To know that you can’t get to your children, and there’s just smoke everywhere, and you don’t know how close the fire is to your house or to the evacuation point where you know your children were with family friends, it was just horrible,” he said.

A dozen fire trucks and a water-bombing helicopter brought the blaze under control about 7:30pm (AEDT).

The Tasmanian Fire Service said the situation was quite serious at the height of the fire and crews have been praised for saving houses.

Spokesman John LeFevre said two houses were scorched but only an outbuilding was razed.

“A couple of them caught on fire but we managed to save them,” he said.

“We lost an outhouse sleep-out down the bottom end of one of the gardens, but we had a good save and the boys did a really good job in controlling what conditions we had.”

Property damage being assessed

The cause of the blaze is being investigated and property losses are being assessed.

Rain late in the day, which was unseasonably hot at 27 degrees Celsius, helped ease conditions.

“The fire is considered under control, it’s within safe boundaries,” Mr LeFevre said.

“Crews will be checking all the boundaries again today and looking for any residual fire that’s still be burning after that 10 millimetres of rain we had overnight.

“We’ll be mapping the fire this morning with a helicopter and there’ll be checks for damage and our fire investigators will be on the ground there this morning to determine cause.”

Local business owner Mick Tucker said the damage could have been much worse.

“Our community is very, very happy today to wake up with no loss of homes or loss of life,” he said.

Mr Deering said the fire was compounded by not having access to some resources.

“Some of the boat crew, for emergencies, were stuck on the wrong side of the fire,” he said.

“At one point, a fishing vessel was being considered as an alternative to evacuating people by boat.

“We even had one of the landings barges for oysters if things went pear-shaped and we had to get people out.”

“They could probably fit about 40 people on the barge. The whole community pulled together, it was a great effort.”

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