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Monday, 9 April 2012

House Fire

At the end of 2008 I did what I had never done before.  I started a thirty year mission, to own my own home.

I bought a tiny little place out in the country, about as far as I could get from my job at the time and still be willing to commute to work.  I bought it in the country for a number of reasons.  The biggest was price.  At the time, a 3 bedroom in the nearest major town was $350,000.  You’d get less than 1000 m2 of land to call yours, and the neighbours would be right next door.

So I found a two and half bedroom home on 8 acres for $260,000.  260?  Hey I could get a mortgage for that.  So I did.

I moved in on Dec. 23rd.

But Queensland isn’t Alberta.  There are 2 seasons here.  Wet and dry.  Wet is from Dec to March.  Dry is the rest of the time.

Sure enough, the last rain hit us in the middle of March.

Fast forward to early September.  We haven’t seen a drop of rain in about 6 months.  People, in their infinite wisdom start lighting fires, to backburn properties, largely to get rid of fuel.

Properly done, even in those conditions, the fire can be controlled.  However, for every 3 fires lit with proper precautions, there is one that isn’t.

There was a lot of dead lying around from Cyclone Larry still, from a few years before.  Even I knew that it was a hazard, but it was so incredibly dry, I didn’t do a burn myself because it constitute a threat to all of the residents that lived in my general area.

Sure enough, someone, who figures he knows more than anyone else, decides that he needs to burn a stump (according to the official fire report, but neighbours say he was actually burning garbage) lights a fire.

Naturally, his precautions are inadequate, because the fire gets away from him.  It burns on a fairly narrow course.  In the 2km distance between my property and his, and the half dozen properties or so in the way, it only takes out a couple of sheds and one house before screaming up the hill to my place.

Queensland, by and large, has a good rural fire system.  If there’s only fire going.  But that day, there were 2 others sucking back local resources.  They were importing rural brigades from other communities, one of whom got bogged when it went off road and had to be towed out.

Winds, too, were unfavourable, that day blowing up to 70kph.

There was a lot of smoke in the area when I left for work, but then, there were alot of fires.  I didn’t worry.  I should have.

About 3:30pm I get a call from a neighbour.  “There’s tons of smoke here, and a fires burning close, but I think you’ll be ok.”  I thanked her, and didn’t worry, she was a long time resident of the area, I reckoned she should know.

25 minutes later I finished the sales meeting I was in and called my step daughter.  Having been home only a short while herself, she said it was very smokey but she couldn’t see the source.

5 minutes later, the house was levelled by fire.

Thankfully, my stepdaughter, her husband, and most of the dogs made it out safely. 

We found the remains of one of our dogs hiding where he did when was in trouble.  It took a while before I could eat BBQ again.  5 of my cats showed up the day after the fire, out of the rubble.  I have no idea how they survived it.  But I’m glad they did.  I have no idea what happened to the others.  My chickens were all but wiped out.  And my ancient drake actually survived by sitting in his water container.  That duck is 20 years old now.  Don't even get me started on cockatiels.

About the guy who started the fire, the local copper told me they weren’t going to do anything, and at the end of the day he would have only been liable for a fine of $350.

My house itself was insured.  We rebuilt.  But I lost a shitpile of stuff I can’t replace.  Memories of my first wife, and stuff I spent nearly 2 grand importing from Canada, the bare bones of my life before.  My contents insurance was short by about 50 grand.

In combined damage he did over a million in damage, half of that to my property alone.  I don’t care if he’s insured or not.  It's a bit unaustralian of me, but fuck it, I’m suing.


  1. This is disturbing and tragic...especially the part about the dog dying in his normal hiding place. :(

  2. Thanks Colleen. It was a few years ago now, but that event continues to affect us even now. And this guy thinks its all done, it ain't.

  3. For all the life that was lost, this brought tears to my eyes. All the momentos of memories that are gone and not easily replaced if they can be replaced. I might have pictures of you in Alberta. If I do, I can send copies of them to you.

    1. If you do, that would be great, but I'm not expecting any. I went to great pains to make sure I wasn't photoed often.