Life’s work up in flames

Life’s work up in flames

As bushfires ripped through Victoria’s east, winemaker Andrew Clarke could do nothing but stare at a screen in horror and disbelief at what he was watching on live TV.

He was sat at a cafe with other relieved locals, who had managed to escape the inferno engulfing their homes at the edge of the Bunyip State Park, when he saw the aerial footage of his Tonimbuk vineyard explode into a ball of flames.

The Jinks Creek Winery was not just his life’s work. It was his family home and also home to his horses.

He’d left it all behind late on Saturday and got out with his wife and kids. Mr Clarke even defied orders to rescue his two dogs, Blue and Pappy. But that was all he could do.

“We’re homeless,” Mr Clarke told The Australian, bleakly, after watching his life’s work go up in flames.
“It’s gone, the house too, it’s all gone. We’ve got horses, they’re probably dead.”

He told The Age he was the first winemaker to plant a vineyard in West Gippsland in the 1970s after he received the second-ever winemaking scholarship from the Victorian Wine Industry Association in 1979.

“I planted that winery myself and put the first vines in back in 1979,” he said.

“We’ve got a 130 million gallon (492 megalitre) dam and the water bombers were pulling water out of that, but we still lost everything.”

As a wind change forced firefighters to work all night to contain the blaze, terrified residents have described the horrific moments they were confronted by the inferno.

Evacuated Longwarry North resident Kiery-Anne Clissold told the BBC she was confronted by a “huge wall of flame” outside her home.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s frightening. It’s a monster.”

Despite cooler conditions expected today, firefighters may have to contend with dry lightning, which could start more fires.

The Bunyip State Park fire, burning 65km east of Melbourne, was sparked by lightning strikes on Friday and has destroyed more than 10,000 hectares.

The blaze is still racing towards the Princes Freeway, and emergency warnings remain in place for the surrounding area.

“The risk of lightning redevelops in the late morning with the chance of some showers and thunderstorms,” Bureau of Meteorology’s senior forecaster Christie Johnson said.

While there was a chance of showers, it was hard to pinpoint where they would hit, and there would only be a few millimetres of rainfall, she said.

“It will be cooler and more humid on Monday which will help with the firefighting efforts,” she said.

However, Sunday night’s wind change is raising worries the blaze would change direction.

“We are certainly concerned with the change that’s going to come through … we know that will mean the eastern flank of the fire will become the head of the fire,” Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Sunday.

“The Bunyip fire is worse than one that burned in the same spot on Black Saturday,” the Country Fire Authority assistant chief officer Trevor Owen said.

“While it damaged some property (in 2009) it was a very narrow finger compared to what we’re facing with this fire because this fire has been growing,” Mr Owen told a community meeting in Pakenham.

More than 2000 firefighters were working to contain blazes around the state, he said.

There have been reports of a house and sheds destroyed at Tonimbuk, reportedly belonging to the Jinks Creek Winery, and Garfield North, but so far authorities have only been able to confirm three properties were lost in the blaze.

Two homes were also lost in the Budgeree-Wilsons Promontory fires, incident controller for those blazes, Peter West, told the ABC.

An emergency warning was issued for Yinnar South, with the blaze growing to more than 1500 hectares and significant spot fires.

A watch and act remains in place for communities near Dargo and Licola in Gippsland.

“Although the wind has eased, reducing fire activity, there is still potential for spotting, and you should remain vigilant,” authorities said of the Dargo blaze.

There are around 19 other fires still burning across Victoria. The hot and windy conditions are expected to linger until Wednesday when rain is expected to help firefighters.

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