‘I can’t watch it’: Residents unite as fire hits hinterland

 

LIKE a scene out of Tomorrow When the War Began, the Canungra Showgrounds filled with the glare of spotlights, served as a meeting point for the small community - facing a disaster many had not seen for decades.

Under the smoky red sunset those in danger sought shelter in tents and caravans as they waited to hear the fate of their homes.

The standing area for firefighters at each shift change, volunteers and victims mixed in the shadows, and the occasional glare of the passing fire truck swapping stories.

Firefighters brace for the worst as fires continue to burn in the Canungra and Sarabah regions. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT
Firefighters brace for the worst as fires continue to burn in the Canungra and Sarabah regions. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT

Others just sat, their eyes on the distant embers in the hilltops waiting for more news.

For those closer to town the Canungra Hotel was a point of refuge, away from the crisis.

Still covered in ash and dirt Danny Walton was enjoying his first cold beer in what seemed to him like forever.

But he wasn't celebrating. "I'm only on the lights" he said.

He was just taking a breath heading back to face the blaze.

Danny had spent the better part of the last week carting water to save his family home.

His friend Dave Hope had even purchased a 1000 litre water tank for his Ute to help out.

"I asked my boss if I could borrow the truck so I could hook up the 5000 litre tank, so we have been back and forth."

Chickens from a Sabarah farm have been transported by trailer to the Canungra show grounds to take shelter from the bushfires.
Chickens from a Sabarah farm have been transported by trailer to the Canungra show grounds to take shelter from the bushfires.

"It's dad's place but he is overseas at the moment, which I think is best, I don't want him to worry," Danny said.

"The community is so good, everyone has been helping everyone else out, the missus and her friends were out helping to clear up."

"We had to put in land blocks for the firies to get in and out so I knocked down most of the bloody fences but who cares.

"We got the horses out, had to move the chickens to crab pots but we are OK - heaps of people are worse off we are very lucky."

Danny insisted on a "massive thankyou" to the rural fire brigade.

"Can't do it without them," he said.

Sitting back in his camping chair at the Canungra Showgrounds staring and the smouldering horizon, Terry Monaghan struggled to tear his eyes from the sight.

His family home was under the thick cloud of smoke right in front of him.

"We live there," he said pointing to the mountain ridge in flames.

"We shouldn't have set up here, it's a front-row seat," he said.

Like his neighbours he and his family escaped from the inferno to the safety of the Canungra show grounds, only to have his caravan facing the sizzling horror that was slowly enveloping his home.

"I had to go walk down to the creek for a bit, we can't watch it all."

Mr Monaghan' family had lived in the area for 12 years and on the hill top hobby farm with his wife and daughter for two.

Volunteer firefighters have been tireless in their efforts to save Coast properties and bushland. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT
Volunteer firefighters have been tireless in their efforts to save Coast properties and bushland. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT

The property has three homes but Mr Monahan said he expects at best only one would be saved.

After spending a sleepless night clearing his horses, dogs and other animals with the help of friends and neighbours, he said he can only sit and wait.

"It's hard because we know what is happening, we did all we could and had so much help," he said.

"Now we are just waiting, I know the feed and fencing is gone.

"Or we could lose everything."

Brett Heckenberg sits rolling a cigarette and sipping a cool beer as he looks into to crowded and smoky Canungra Showgrounds before him.

As one of the 20 bushfire evacuees on site the small moment of peace is the first he has had in the last two days.

New to the area he had purchased his "dream country escape" just two months ago.

Now after packing every worldly possession into his cars and van, and moving all 30 of his goats, sheep and horses he has admitted to himself there was nothing left to do.

"I don't know what I'm going back to, but I know I've done everything in my power that I could have," he said.

His voice cracked with grief only once as he detailed his efforts to repack the home he had only just made his own.

"My sister is also in hospital so she was on the phone to me last night telling me what to pack," Mr Heckenberg said.

"The Fire has been by my back door for days, if it wasn't for the water bombers it would have gone up yesterday," he said about his brand new house.

His nephew had already evacuated on Thursday but Mr Heckenberg said he couldn't leave any of his family photo albums or other personal possessions behind.

"I was packing them up, they're in my cars which I've moved -everything is full and parked in a cleared area."

"It is all just a shock, I'm in a daze."



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