Revisiting the 2019-20 Kangaroo Island bushfires


Please click the image to view OUT OF THE EMBERS: Kangaroo Island's remarkable recovery.

Please click the image to view OUT OF THE EMBERS: Kangaroo Island's remarkable recovery.

The Islander's special publication OUT OF THE EMBERS: Kangaroos Island's remarkable recovery is here.

This special publication comes one year after the devastation of last summer's fires on Kangaroo Island and is meant to showcase how far we have come. It is also meant to be a document of what happened.

Islanders are at different levels of recovery, but our publication Out of the Embers: Kangaroo Island's Remarkable Recovery hopefully gives them hope by highlighting the spirit of the community.

Our coverage includes The Islander's Senior Journalist Stan Gorton's diary from the first day of disaster, his interviews with survivors and fire-fighters and photographs of the heat of the moment.

The fires of December, 2019, and January, 2020, were like no others in recent history in that they burned for so long, covered such a large area and just kept coming and coming.

All the blazes were sparked by dry lightning, starting with strikes at Duncan and Menzies on December 19.

The fires were terrifying enough, sending smoke over the Chrismas parade in Kingscote and destroying properties as the flames swept over Middle and Western river areas.

Little did we know this was just the beginning. More dry lightning struck deep in the rugged Ravine wilderness area of Flinders Chase National Park.

There was little time to celebrate New Year. On January 1, the newspaper reported: "The two Ravine fires have now merged. The single fire is burning in an east north-easterly direction towards the Duncan Fire, which was declared contained on Tuesday, December 31."

Some say more could have been done to send in the bulldozers or water-bombing aircraft, but the fires spread quickly, crossing Cape Borda Road and merging with the Duncan fire that in the week before had been burning westward toward DeMole and Snug Cove.

All hell broke loose when on January 3 these combined fires raced southerly back into Flinders Chase, taking out the whole park, including the visitor centre, but thankfully stopping just short of the two lighthouses. What happened next was that the terrible prediction made at the community meeting the day before at the Parndana Town Hall came true.

By the afternoon, the wind shifted from the southwest as predicted, the fire jumped from the park bushland into the timber plantations, farmland and other native bush pockets, picking up speed.

The state Keelty review has revealed the firestorm was spotting 25 kilometres in front of tself and generating its own weather. A wedge-tailed eagle blasted out of the sky brought home the ferocity to me.

There was nothing anything anyone could have done to stop this storm of fire that claimed the lives of Dick and Clayton Young on the Playford Highway at Gosse. Another moment I will never forget was hearing the news of their deaths at the packed meeting at the Kingscote Town Hall the next day, January 4.

FIERCE: The firestorm swept through scrub country on Kangaroo Island. Photo: Sean McGowan

FIERCE: The firestorm swept through scrub country on Kangaroo Island. Photo: Sean McGowan

The fire went on to rage for another three weeks, moving ever eastward, coming down Kohinoor and even threatening the airport and western edge of Kingscote.

There are lessons we should learn from these infernal weeks. There is consensus that we need to have more extensive hazard reduction or cold-weather burning while a faster response to outbreaks has also been called for. Others want the removal or breaking up of roadside vegetation, but the fact is we live on a heavily vegetated island with big pockets of bush such as Cape Gantheaume - fuel to burn.

While we need to learn to live with fire and even use it against itself, we also need to accept its power and sometimes there is little we can do other than get the hell out. We have come out these fires stronger and better prepared - you just have to look at work done to better equip and coordinate our farm fire units.

You can view OUT OF THE EMBERS: Kangaroos Island's remarkable recovery by clicking this link.