Mark and Honor Auchinleck left their home on Friday 3 January 2020 not knowing what they would come back to.
This week is Fire Action Week, an opportunity to remind Victorians to prepare their property for the 2020-21 fire season.
Mark is a brigade member with Tintaldra Fire Brigade and understands the importance of preparing your property each year for the upcoming fire season.
Mark and Honor have a property just outside of Towong, Victoria, with 1200 acres of land, and 300 Aberdeen Angus breeder cattle.
Early this year, fires ripped through Victoria’s north-east forcing Honor and Mark to leave their property in the hope their years of preparation would be enough.
“This was by far the worst fires Honor’s family has seen since 1939 and we of course weren’t living in the area then,” Mark said.
“Our plan was always to stay as long as possible. We are really only threatened by a grass ire and up behind the house there wasn’t a great deal of grass left as the cattle had been up there for a while.
“When we made the decision to leave it was because of pressure from our family. Our son and daughter had a better understanding of the situation than we did.
“We had no communication, our landline had gone, internet and mobile phones had gone and we relied solely on the ABC emergency radio which wasn’t a great deal of help at that time.
“When we knew the fire was inevitable we started moving wood from the shed out down onto the lagoon and we moved the outdoor furniture and stacked it in the shed.
“We laid the hoses out on the veranda and soaked the veranda. We also soaked the shed out the back. We had long soaker hoses on 30 metres of grass in front of the house as well.
“We then packed up our belongings and on the Thursday took our two cars down to the river hoping to get a better view of the fire’s location, speed and direction.
“On the Friday morning we moved cattle to the river flats and when the last road from Corryong closed, we left with a very heavy heart.”
Honor and Mark’s farm manager Paul Nugent (who lives at Biggara which wasn’t so threatened at the time) kept an eye on the property.
“On Friday evening Paul was spotting for the CFA when he realised the house might not have enough water and he decided to turn off the sprinklers that we had left on.
“Early Saturday morning Paul turned the sprinklers back on as the fire had spotted either side of the property. He rang us 20 minutes later to say the house and the cattle were all right as the fire had passed through.
“We came back on the Monday at around 2pm to find the house was a green oasis.
“We often look back and think we were so lucky,” Honor said. “But actually our fire preparations started years earlier in 2014.
“In 2014 we were aware of the fact our solar pump wasn’t up to providing the water we needed if a fire did arrive. I contacted the local builder and asked if they could mount us a pump and move it up the hill.
“We installed a 110,000-litre tank that supplements our solar pump as it can provide water for the cattle and house.
“We also installed a sprinkler system not just on the roof but sprinklers around the perimeter of the garden so that they would have the dual purpose of watering the garden and also keeping a bit of a perimeter of green outside,” Honor added.
When Honor and Mark knew the fire prediction for the 2019-20 season was extreme they started to prepare further.
“We started moving the flammable things inside, cutting flammable timber off trees and scrubs and generally tiding up the garden,” Honor said. “We are isolated here so it’s our responsibility to prepare our property.
“For us, the last fire season demonstrated just how important it is to educate yourself on fire preparedness and make sure you prepare each and every year.
“We have already started preparing our property for the upcoming fire season as it’s the most important thing you can do.”