This Summer has been a particularly severe bushfire season in Australia. As a kid growing up in the Australian countryside, we’ve always known the danger of bushfires. Before Black Saturday our aim was always to stay and fight any bushfire. 

Since then, we now live on the edge of the bush in Mount Beauty, in North East Victoria. It’s much safer to get out early, so when the warnings came around this year, that’s what we did.

Evacuating Mount Beauty

After New Years, there were several bushfires burning around the Victorian High Country, so when January 2 hit with forecast bad fire conditions we planned to get out the following day and go to Wodonga.

That afternoon we received a couple of text messages telling us to leave, so we rushed forward our evacuation.

It was stressful as all our family had been together for Christmas and now we were in a rush to get packed and say goodbye. 

We stayed with some friends from church in Wodonga and were so appreciative of their support. The next day was going to be a hot one so rather than setting up a tent at the local caravan park, Danielle and I decided to head down to Melbourne to stay with family. It was some welcome relief.

Comparing the impact of smoke
Comparing the impact of smoke

The following week we returned to Mount Beauty, but conditions began to worsen again later in the week. 

Evacuation Take 2

We received another text message the following Thursday. This time we knew about the evacuation location that the Army Reserves were running at Latchford Barracks near Wodonga. 

Evacuation Message
Evacuation Message

We signed in and they gave us an introduction to the barracks, fed us dinner and showed us to our rooms. The rooms were basic but air conditioned. There was a massive indoor swimming pool, a rec center with air hockey, pool and table tennis as well as video games for the kids and coffee in the Every Man’s Lounge. Danielle was also excited to see lots of Kangaroos around the base.

We were glad to be there and it was less smoky than Mount Beauty. The next day the weather was forecast to be a hot one so Danielle and I planned to go to a move in Albury which was about 20 minutes away. Though the fire conditions were expected to change, we didn’t think they’d impact us getting back to the Army base.

We were wrong.

A Close Call

The wind was intense as we were driving back. Just as we got onto the freeway ramp to exit a warning came across the radio warning us to steer clear of Barandooda (which we had to drive through to get back to base). As you can see in the video, things got a little intense. The camera doesn’t to justice about how close the fire looked and how fast the flames were moving. 

We had to drive back past the fire and through the smoke. The fire was headed for the base that we were staying at. Even so, the guard at the entrance reassured us that we would be safe inside. The power was out at the barracks but we were glad to be back with our parents. It was easy to see that a lot of other people had been evacuated to here while we were at the movies. We now had another family in our dorm with us.

We watched the water bombers fly back and forth trying to douse as much of the fire as possible before the light completely faded from the sky. 

A convoy of Army trucks began driving through the gates of the complex, and parked near our accommodation. We weren’t sure if they were here to protect us or if they had been relocated from another base that was close to the fire.

The Army personnel came to each of the dorms and asked us to gather in the mess hall. Everyone in the base who had already been evacuated from their homes to come here were now being moved again. We were checked off on a role to make sure everyone was there, then we crammed into the mess hall for about an hour. Without air-conditioning, it was hot and stuffy, not to mention dark. After an hour they thanked us for our patience and told us that the fire risk had passed. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be power until 1am.

Making The Most of Evacuation

We found a cool place outside to play a game by torchlight which kept us busy. We eventually went to bed. The power came on about an hour later.

In the morning it was much quieter, and cooler. It seemed like a lot of people had already left, including the other family from our dorms. We had originally planned to stay until Monday but with the cool front having arrived and the fire situation looking a lot better, we decided to head home. 

A couple of days later they had a community fire meeting in Mount Beauty. The Army reserves rolled into town for it. They have been a huge support throughout this whole experience. The fires are still burning, but conditions have improved and we are hoping rain will remove any further threat for the rest of Summer.

Australian Army Reserves
Australian Army Reserves

If you are traveling around Australia during the Summer months, ensure you have the local bushfire app installed. It is important to check if the locations you are visiting have an evacuation issued. 

If you would like to support communities affected by the bushfires you can donate to Samaritan’s Purse or the Red Cross.