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​Tree change dream almost becomes a nightmare
Friday 6 October 2017 – 10:00 AM

Perched on top of a hill with sweeping views of Donnybrook forest land, retiree Ray Mallon’s house in Argyle is the kind of place many tree changers dream of. 

But on Australia Day 2017, his modern, double brick home was nearly destroyed when a ferocious bushfire bore down on the area.

Despite never having experienced a bushfire firsthand, Ray had prepared his property to a high degree and was ready to defend, and he did so successfully.

“I was aware there was a possibility of a bushfire in Argyle when we moved here from Sydney, and that’s not something I’ve ever had to think about before,” Ray said. 

“But I gained a lot of practical knowledge by attending local Bushfire Ready Group meetings, and from people in the Argyle-Irishtown Bush Fire Brigade (BFB).” 

Ahead of bushfire season Ray cut back vegetation around the house and carried out winter burning with the debris he had collected around his property, such as leaves, loose branches and logs.

“During that period there was a street meet on my road and neighbours let the rest of the community know about what preparations they had made and we inspected each other’s properties. 

“There were also speakers from Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and the Bush Fire Brigade so I gained a lot of practical information about what to do if a fire comes through.”

Ray and his sister made a bushfire plan which involved his sister leaving with the dogs while he stayed to defend.

“Our house is a five year old double brick home set up with irrigation, and I also had good preparation in terms of the type of clothing I’d wear and had practiced my plan.”

On the day of the bushfire Ray was inside the house watching television with his sister when he received a voice message from his neighbour saying “Ray, there’s a fire heading your way”. 

“We looked out the window and sure enough we could see the smoke and the wind direction was such that the fire was heading directly for the property.”

After his sister left Ray set to work watering down the house, filling the gutters with water, spraying the roof and veranda and focusing on the garden surrounding the house.

Within ten minutes, their house, which is at the end of a road and surrounded by bush, was under impact.

“I expected something that would be more orderly, that the fire would simply make its way through the grass,” he said.

“But it was like a train coming towards me. 

“The ferociousness of the fire, the noise and heat and the rain of burning embers, it was something I had never experienced before and I appreciated just how dangerous the situation was.”

Despite feeling fearful at the time Ray said he focused on the tasks at hand. He also felt reassured by the presence of firefighters in the area.

“I had Volunteer Fire and Rescue firefighters coming down the fire trail alongside the house asking me if I was ok and whether I was intending to stick with my plan and defend, and I said yes.”

The fire passed Ray’s house during what he describes as a very intense period where smoke alarms inside the house were blaring and his shed almost caught on fire. Bunbury Bush Fire Brigade helped extinguish grass fires near the shed, and Shire of Donnybrook-Balingup Senior Ranger Paul Robins waved over a nearby DFES aircraft which water bombed the bush north of Ray’s property.

About five minutes later it was over.

“The fire had passed and I knew it was going to be ok. But for about twelve hours afterwards I was drinking as much water as I could as I was quite dehydrated and I also experienced a heat rash down my arms and torso.” 

“I realised how fragile the whole situation could be as far as my life was concerned. I was definitely in shock. If the brigade hadn’t been there to help me things could have turned out differently.”

Ray said he has learned a lot from his experience. 

“If I hadn’t had all my protective gear in place I would’ve been in real trouble. I discovered my boots had partially melted in the soles so I dread to think what would have happened if I just had ordinary shoes on.”

He is tweaking his plan for the upcoming bushfire season to ensure he is well prepared if fire threatens again. 

DFES Deputy Commissioner Steve Fewster said if you live in a bushfire prone area* like Ray you need to prepare your property for the bushfire season now.

“It only takes five minutes to have a Fire Chat with your family about what you’ll do when a bushfire threatens,” Deputy Commissioner Fewster said.

“Making those decisions will help you to put your plan into action when you’re threatened by fire because decision-making becomes difficult when under stress.

“And I urge you - only stay to defend if you’re prepared to the highest level.”

*More than 90% of Western Australia is considered bushfire prone. A bushfire prone area is an area that is subject to or likely to be subject to bushfires and includes both the area containing bushfire prone vegetation and a hundred metre buffer zone immediately surrounding it. Source: Office of Bushfire Risk Management