‘Most terrifying experience’

2020-01-15 06:01
PHOTO: facebookSue Campbell-Ross and her husband, Rod.

PHOTO: facebookSue Campbell-Ross and her husband, Rod.

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A FORMER Pietermaritzburg man turned hero when he single-handedly saved his farmhouse in Australia from a massive blaze.

Grant Park (52) used a water tanker on a trailer pulled by his 4X4 Jeep to put out the menacing flames which were part of the intense bushfires which have devastated Australia and the Victoria area for about a month.

This as Pietermaritzburg expats yesterday described “apocalyptic” scenes in Australia and said they were gripped by anxiety as authorities expected the situation to escalate in the coming days with hot weather and heavy winds forecasted.

Park’s wife, Kelli, told Weekend Witness that she and her 16-year-old daughter Grace, the family’s two dogs and their cat evacuated the home as a “catastrophic fire” came toward their home in Annandale recently.

Park remained behind to fight the blaze.

“He used the water tank and drove around and fired the hose at the fires. He stamped out a lot of the smaller fires.”

Kelli said Park was left with minor injuries and bloody and blistered feet. She said a third of their 40-acre vineyard was lost in the fire, along with their tractor and all their farming equipment. Only the family’s house and shed was saved by Park’s heroics. “It was the most frightening experience of our lives,” Kelli said. “I left my daughter at a friend’s house and drove back to look for him. I thought I needed to save him or fetch him. I managed to drive in and find him.

“I just wanted him to be safe.”

Kelli explained Park’s bravery by saying the former Carter High boy has “immeasurable love and respect for his family”.

The family have been picking up the pieces, and Kelli said they have had to chop down several trees which were left hollow after the fire.

The family have lived in Australia since 2007. Friends have started an online fundraiser for the family, who were not insured. It currently has about USD8 000 (about R127 000).

Former Merrivale couple Dean and Wendy Naude described how their beach holiday turned into the most terrifying ordeal they could have ever imagined when fires began raging in the Tomakin area on the Australian south coast.

The couple, who live in Canberra, travelled to Tomakin to ring in the festive period at a hotel. But on New Year’s Eve they received a distressing message that the fires were approaching.

“By 11 am that day the power was gone in the area, there was no cellphone signal and the sky was so black with smoke that people were using torches,” Wendy said.

She said the family packed their car and tried to drive out of Tomakin, but were unable to fill up their fuel tank because of the pumps having no power. They followed a crowd of people onto a beach in the nearby town of Broulea and waited until the fire subsided.

“It was terrifying because all communications were down so we didn’t know what was going on.”

The roads were finally opened on Thursday and the family drove home to Canberra, where they saw the carnage left by the fire on the way.

Former Midlands woman and Class of 1984 GHS pupil Sue Campbell-Ross, who has lived with her family in the sleepy Blue Mountains near Sydney for the past 12 years, has two “mega fires” burning either side of it, about just three to five kilometres away.

Campbell-Ross said the situation was the worst the family have ever seen, despite living in a fire-prone area.

She said the family has a car parked at a nearby railway station should they need to make a getaway. “But my husband [Rod] and son [Harry] will stay behind to fight the fires while I leave with my daughters.”

She said, however, that the Blue Mountains has just one road entering it, so if that road is somehow blocked the family would be stuck there.

“We also worry about small embers which come before the fires and get into the gutters and roofs.”

The family has been living in Australia since 2003. Campbell-Ross said: “We’ve packed the car three times with precious items to be ready to run to a safe place if we needed to but so far, so good. I have so many friends who have defended their homes over the past weeks.

“I feel dread! But I’m also much better if I am doing something practical and useful so packing up the car with essential items keeps me busy and focused.”

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