Going going still here
Garry Hammer and his family battle the encroaching Gippsland bushfires.
GARY HAMMER: I sat inside tuned into the ABC radio listening to the fire progressing ever closer and closer. All the time, an eerie presence was creeping over the area. Deanne, my wife, was inside packing up all our photos and important paperwork with the idea of putting it on the local bus and sending it to my mom. Unknown to me, on separate occasions, each with tears in their eyes, my son, Tom, and my dad went inside just to hug Deanne, and reassure her-- and perhaps themselves-- we're going to be all right.
What first looked like a golden sunrise had quickly changed into a swirling and bubbling angry pot of hot molten gold. I found myself saying, holy shit, as I knew from my experience fighting fires with DSE we're going to be in trouble. More spot fires starting. Now the whole Northern Reach was on fire. A grassfire started spreading across the paddock right behind the shed as my dad arrived. Help at last.
By now the day had turned into night. It was so thick with darkness a torch couldn't penetrate. Realizing a pump on the river needed fuel, I was seriously challenged. I needed to get Tom and dad to leave the house and venture into the darkness towards the fire front. Three times I told them to go, called them back. Finally there was a break in the darkness. Off they went. "Stay together close to the fence", I called.
We always knew we would stay and defend our property. Never had we thought about me evacuating. I spent the whole time patrolling around and around, watching the perimeter of the house. Calling out instructions. "Stick together. Don't get caught too far from the house. The house is what we stayed for, not everything else." It's bloody hard watching your property and valuable possessions burn while telling everyone, "just let it go, don't worry about it."
After what seemed like hours, finally the sky started to lighten and slowly neighboring properties emerged out of the chaos. We're always thinking that they all could have perished. It was such a relief. We all made it. Several days later a friend called in to see how we fared. He'd rang earlier and spoke to Tom. That was the final straw. Tom had told him Dad was a hero. I just sat in my wheelchair with tears of emotion streaming down my face.