THE Stawell and Deep Lead communities were thrust into panic mode 10 years ago, as a savage bushfire soured new year celebrations.
The fire started at 4.45pm on New Year’s Eve and carved out a path of destruction across more than 10,000 hectares, stretching from beyond Deep Lead to the Black Ranges near Great Western.
Fire crews remained on the fire ground through the night and into New Year’s Day, as the fire destroyed homes and threatened to burn out of control towards the townships of Great Western and Stawell.
While many chose to evacuate, others stayed and defended their homes, but some efforts were in vain as overnight, ten homes were lost in the area.
Fears were heightened when a wind change was predicted for early Sunday, which would place the townships of Stawell, Great Western, Moyston and Armstrong under threat.
Fortunately, the wind change never eventuated, bringing a sigh of relief to emergency services and residents in the townships.
Shortly after, steady rain started to fall and dumped seven millimetres on the fire front, which assisted firefighters to bring the blaze under control.
The rain came as a blessing to the firefighters and those residents whose homes were still under threat.
By mid afternoon on New Year’s Day, the welcome news came through that the fire had been contained. While the news came as a relief, it was too little, too late for several families who had lost their homes.
Among those residents through, there were some touching stories of survival and courage.
The fire was one of the most devastating seen in the region in years. At its peak, the fire, which was fuelled by strong winds and extreme heat, destroyed everything on its path. It claimed homes, sheds, several other outhouses, livestock and 10,000 hectares of public and private land.
In the wake of the fires, the entire community rallied in support of those who lost their homes and others who had been touched in some way by the blaze.
Banks, Telstra, government departments, Northern Grampians Shire Council, community groups, charity organisations and individuals all stepped up to assist families affected by the fire.
One of the largest donations came from the Stawell Tennis Club who had hosted the Party at the Park on New Year’s Eve.
While the event was run at a loss due to lack of attendance, the club still decided to donate food and items to the fire appeal, along with the $3500 that had been provided for fireworks that were cancelled on the night.
Ten years on, the Deep Lead fires might be a distant memory for many, but as temperatures continue to rise and the threat of wildfire grows stronger, it won’t take much for memories of the devastation caused by the blaze to come flooding back.