Ken Topperwien and his wife Lesley were managing Camp Logue Brook, approximately nine kilometres south east of Yarloop, when a devastating bushfire swept through the area.
On Wednesday 6 January 2016 a fire sparked by lightening to the east of Waroona was heading towards the town and ash was beginning to fall over the camp grounds.
Ken and Lesley had been keeping up to date with the bushfire’s path via emergency.wa.gov.au and could see that it was tracking straight towards them. They knew there was a chance they would need to evacuate.
Early the following morning Ken checked the bushfire alerts and saw the camp was within the area where people were being told to evacuate. He alerted the group at the camp site and assisted them to evacuate immediately, before turning his attention to his own house and evacuation plans.
Having a plan in place before bushfire threatens is a really important step to enable you to make decisions quickly and help save your life should a bushfire impact you and your family.
Ken and his wife had already discussed their plans of what they would do if they were impacted by fire and were well prepared to begin putting their plan in place.
“It was lucky timing as we were finishing up as managers of the camp and a lot of our belongings were already packed, so it didn’t take us long to get ourselves ready to evacuate,” Ken said.
“Lesley got in the car with our valuables and our dogs and she headed to Harvey to stay with friends there.
“I then headed back to secure the property and prepare it as best I could for the bushfire which was tracking right towards us.”
At 10am Ken received a call from the Parks and Wildlife Service as they knew the camp was in the area that was in danger, and they alerted him to the fact that the fire was jumping ahead due to ember attack.
This is when bushfire embers are blown kilometres ahead of a bushfire and can spark new fires. Even if you think you’ll have time to escape, the fire could be at your doorstop within minutes.
Ken evacuated the property as soon as he could and drove to the caravan park on the southern side of Logue Brook Dam where he could see the bushfire advancing towards the camp.
Despite smoke blanketing the sky and flames visible above the trees he was shocked to see people still on the lake enjoying themselves, and seemingly oblivious to the approaching fire danger.
“It was surreal because the flames were over the tops of the trees and smoke was filling the sky but in front of me was a boat speeding about with a guy skiing off the back of it,” Ken said.
“I left and headed to Harvey to join my wife and by my guess it would have been around 3pm that the camp would have been impacted.”
Ken had his Personal Protective Equipment with him and in the days following the fire he assisted the Binningup and Myalup Bush Fire Brigades with the clean-up. He was able to get back to the camp on the Saturday morning to see the damage.
The fire had swept through the campground and destroyed it and it had burnt half way across his front yard but luckily the house had been saved thanks to some Yarloop volunteer firefighters who were able to protect the home.
Now a volunteer with Mandogalup Bush Fire Brigade, Ken says he has assisted at many bushfires and has seen firsthand how quickly conditions can change and threaten the community.
DFES Deputy Commissioner Lloyd Bailey said bushfires are commonplace in WA and can cause huge destruction, meaning people need to be prepared.
“Summer brings hot, dry and windy conditions in WA and with it a high risk of bushfires so we are reminding the community that a pre-determined bushfire plan is essential to help save your life in a bushfire,” Deputy Commissioner Bailey said.
“Now is the time to begin preparing yourself and your property before bushfire strikes.
“It’s as simple as having a five minute Fire Chat with your family and neighbours today to determine what your trigger point is to leave, where you will go and which direction you will go.
“I encourage all Western Australians to visit firechat.wa.gov.au and make your plan to survive a bushfire today.”