When the CFA truck drove off, leaving us to fight alone, my heart sank, writes Daniel Cash. And then the fire arrived.
When the CFA truck drove off, leaving us to fight alone, my heart sank, writes Daniel Cash. And then the fire arrived.

We’ve paid a big price for not being better fire prepared

The fires came at us from the north first, then from the east. The fire ripped up the river gully and closed in on us from the south and the west. There was no way out and no reception.

This was the reality of facing the fires that have gutted so much of Victoria in our worst-ever fire season.

On December 30, I found myself in Clifton Creek, East Gippsland, defending my father-in-law Mark's cherished bushland home from an oncoming wall of flame.

With 20 sprinklers and tanks topped up by water from the river with multiple pumps, we were confident we could do it.

As plumes of smoke rose kilometres into the sky, a CFA crew arrived around 3pm and told us to evacuate. They shook their heads with a look of grave sadness on their faces when Mark told them we were staying. Watching the truck roar away, my heart sank and I wondered if I should have been their passenger.

The firestorm Daniel Cash faced. Picture: supplied
The firestorm Daniel Cash faced. Picture: supplied

Then the fire arrived. We spent from midday until 2am defending that property as fierce flames and choking smoke came from all directions.

A crown fire consumed the cabin. We thought it was gone. Mark cried. But after the smoke dissipated, to our surprise, his sprinklers and corrugated iron defence shields protected the little wooden box nestled there in the now burnt bush.

We successfully defended his home and large vegetable garden, but lost the prized orchard and a caravan with the most beautiful deck overlooking the river, despite a water bomber dumping a load on it right in front of our eyes. A car exploded.

That night a nasty ember attack came from the west. A strong wind blew embers onto his cabin and home and so we fought the fire again until morning. It was an apocalyptic scene, with fires around the property stretching as far as the eye could see.

As a Melbourne-based barrister, this was a side of the Australian bush I'd never had to face before.

My family and I spend as much time as we can in Gippsland, holidaying, bushwalking and camping, but fighting these fires leaves terrifying memories that will stay with me forever.

Burnt letterboxes in Clifton Creek in Bairnsdale, Victoria. Picture: Luis Ascui/Getty Images
Burnt letterboxes in Clifton Creek in Bairnsdale, Victoria. Picture: Luis Ascui/Getty Images

The community of Sarsfield, where my wife grew up, has been gutted.

Many in the community have lost everything. Homes, businesses, the local primary school at Clifton Creek - gone.

The link between climate change and increasingly severe bushfires has been well established by the science for more than a decade. Back in 2009 Ross Garnaut predicted that 2019 was going to be the next fire disaster, in the wake of Black Saturday.

Since then, we've had successive warnings from fire experts, climate scientists and emergency services that a fire season like this was coming.

But we haven't acted swiftly enough, and now we're all paying the price - and nowhere more so than in Gippsland.

Daniel Cash is a Melbourne barrister who recently defended his family's property during the East Gippsland fires.

Daniel Cash with his two children after fighting fires. Picture: supplied
Daniel Cash with his two children after fighting fires. Picture: supplied

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