Pappinbarra bush fires: journalist Letitia Fitzpatrick remembers

One of the homes destroyed in the Pappinbarra bush fires.
One of the homes destroyed in the Pappinbarra bush fires.

Sunday February 12 last year was the hottest day I’ve ever known.  I was off duty that day, trying to stay cool at home.

Through Facebook, I saw that the bush fires at Pappinbarra were spreading, and when our power went out, I headed to the scene but was stopped at Beechwood.

No-one was allowed up the Pappinbarra Road except firefighters, and I interviewed people who lived in the valley and didn’t know whether their homes had survived.  The heat was intense and there was an ominous red glow in the sky. 

Wauchope Show Society had opened the Showground and hall to give food and shelter to anyone who needed it. People began arriving, some with children, others with horses, dogs and cats and were made very welcome.

“Some people just wanted something to eat and drink, and then their friends and families found a place for them. Others stayed,” said Show Society president, Neil Coombes.

Volunteers Lee Grigg and Alison Drury with food for people affected by the fires. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick.

Volunteers Lee Grigg and Alison Drury with food for people affected by the fires. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick.

Local businesses like Coppi’s Butcher Block brought meat, Wauchope Bakery sent bread, Fuzzy Ducks cafe fed weary firefighters, and the Westpac Helicopter Support Group volunteers served food and hot drinks.

When a call for bedding went out on Facebook, people began arriving from all over the Hastings, with fresh water, food and drink, clothes, mattresses and sheets.

Jenny and Rob Hamilton at Timbertown Resort and Motel offered free accommodation to anyone who needed shelter, including weary firefighters.

People went on Facebook to offer spare rooms or caravans to families made homeless by the fires.

RFS Group officer Mal Yarnold was one of the firefighters who worked long hours through the night to protect people and property. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick.

RFS Group officer Mal Yarnold was one of the firefighters who worked long hours through the night to protect people and property. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick.

The next day, I got to Pappinbarra and spoke to firefighters, volunteers and people living in that beautiful valley, much of which was now black, bleak and smouldering.  The scale of the destruction was frightening.  

Three families had lost homes, many more had no fencing or cattle feed, but it could have been so much worse, were it not for the firefighters, who risked their lives to protect people and property.

Devastation at Pappinbarra, February 2017.  Photo: Peter Palmer.

Devastation at Pappinbarra, February 2017. Photo: Peter Palmer.

Wauchope Rotary set up a fund for the victims of the bush fires, and businesses and people from all around our area gave fencing, animal feed, and much more, as well as their precious time and effort to help rebuild Pappinbarra.

Someone began fundraising for Tom and Milli Cowan who lost their home and 89 people donated $13,025 through Go fund Me.  The couple are in Sydney at the moment, hoping to re-build.

Vets and animal-lovers supported Helen Riek who lost her house and one of her horses.  More than 500 people raised $23,955 on Go Fund Me. Helen has been living in Huntingdon for the past year with her horses, and says she doesn’t have the money to re-build.

The other couple made homeless, Denis and Annette Hill, hope to move back to Pappinbarra.

The bush fires destroyed homes and property, but they strengthened the already generous community in the Hastings, and hopefully, made all of us more aware of danger and how to prepare for it.

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