Briagolong, the township that for days has been they key centre in the fight to save Gippsland.
Briagolong, the township that for days has been they key centre in the fight to save Gippsland. From the main street, the A.B.C.'s man-on-the-spot, Peter Brindisi, gave this report.
Smoke, sky-high, black and threatening, this evening again looms over Briagolong, Some of the smoke comes from the smouldering houses, just over one mile from the township. The blaze swept through this area so fast that nothing was saved from the houses. Often, the men who owned them were away fighting other fires, unaware that their own homes had been razed. A saw mill also went up in flames.
The Dyce family lost everything. John Dyce, aged 18, told what happened.
Farmers throughout the Gippsland fire area have been trying to save stock as well as property. In the Boisdale, Newry and Maffra districts, cattle and sheep were let loose to escape the blaze. They frequently jammed roads as they fled before the flames. But some stock was lost and many animals were seen limping across blackened fields.
Every available vehicle had been used in the desperate fight. Small trucks loaded with drums and huge milk and petrol tankers took urgently needed water to fire fronts. One of the main danger spots during the past week has been Valencia Creek.
Fire spotting was hard work as red, acrid smoke blotted out the landscape and stung fire-fighters' eyes. Fanned by a strong northerly wind, the fire raced through grass, scrub and heavy timber along the road between Valencia Creek and Briagolong. An A.B.C. news team in the area received first warning of fire sweeping down on them when kangaroos raced ahead of the fire.
The news team tried to stop the blaze at the roadside, but in seconds it was across the road and sweeping through bushland down towards Maffra Cemetry.
Nothing could stop the fire as it raced through the tinder-dry bush. Working desperately, firefighters held the blaze only see it break out again, not on a front but in tongues and prongs.
Near Briagolong flames were just kept from farm houses after burning through surrounding grass and taking buildings.
Many of the volunteer firemen who came from as far away as Frankston were hampered because they did not know the area. As they met again after being separated, the most often heard greeting was: "It's good to see you are alive."
Police in Melbourne have appealed to sightseers to keep away from roads in the Gippsland fire areas.
Many volunteer firemen fighting the Gippsland fires are exhausted. Some, such as those from Upper Ferntree Gully have been fighting the blaze almost non-stop since last Wednesday. Burnt trees crashing across roads prevented firemen reaching some out breaks this morning. Several vehicles rounding sharp bends have struck fallen trees.
Behind the fire front, women worked around the clock supplying fire-fighters with tea and sandwiches.
Film has just arrived from one of the worst-hit towns in Gippsland - the hamlet of Sarsfield. An ABC camera team was in the town when the fire struck. Reporter Peter Baster said several of the housed could have been available. The team tried to save one house, but were beaten because they had no firefighting equipment. Some houses were burnt by sparks from burning stubble after the main fire had passed.
This house in Bruthen was only 200-yards from the Shire Hall. It belonged to Mr. Frank Johnson who had to watch it burn. He said a storm of fire and smoke hit the bottom of the hill and then raced towards his home. Mrs. Tom Smith lived opposite and refused to leave the town. She said staying there in the face of a wall of fire that raced up the hill was the most terrifying experience of her life.
Firefighters have battled desperately again today to save property, but despite their efforts 30 houses have been reported wipedout and stock losses are also believed to be heavy. At the tiny settlement of Sarsfield, about eight miles east of Bairnsdale, 12 houses were swallowed by the flames. This was one of them.
Sarsfield also lost its church and public hall. An ABC reporter in the area said several of the houses were lost after the main fire had passed. They were ignited by sparks in the burnt stubble.
The householder made a fornlorn attempt to save his home by smashing the water tank, but the flames had already got too strong a hold.
Bruthen, eight miles further to the east, also suffered heavily. Winds estimated at 50-miles an hour swept the fire into the town in two minutes. Mrs. T. Smith was the only woman in her street who did not leave her home.
These were typical of the scenes in a score of Gippsland towns. Residents retreating from the advancing fire, some nursing family pets. Tired fire-fighters, smoke-grimed and dirty, pausing to snatch a moment's rest. Fleeing kangaroos were frequently seen on the outback roads, some leaving their young behind.
Fears are still held for the safety of people at isolated farm-houses. Most have packed a few belongings, and watch and wait...