A bike, a home, the budgies … CFA volunteers count their losses



SEVEN-YEAR-OLD Teagan clings to her new dolly, named Cindy II in memory of the first Cindy, who had come for Christmas. She stops dead in what used to be the front yard. “My bike,” she murmurs. She studies the twisted pile of metal and its one remaining pink handlebar.
“Where’s my stuff?” she asks at last.
“Your stuff is just over there, sweetie,” says her father, Steve Nash. She looks blankly at the blackened pile, raises a hand in a helpless gesture and shrugs. She has no words for this.
Her father takes Teagan and her brother Lachlan, 5, down into the pit that used to be their house. Behind them, the children’s playhouse and swings are still standing. “On that Saturday night when the house was still burning I came and took some clothes off the line,” he says. “They were untouched. We’ve still got some underwear and socks.” He grins. “If I’d known it was going to come through I would have done a bigger load of washing!”
Steve Nash is one of 10 Kinglake CFA volunteers who lost their homes while they were out fighting fires for other people. Now he is sifting through rubble and trying to persuade Teagan that her teacher will not be upset about the loss of the class budgies, with which Teagan had been entrusted.
Mr Nash’s colleague and neighbour in the same street, Tricia Hill, spent part of Saturday trying to look after a distressed colleague whose partner was desperate for advice on where to take their children for safety. “She was on the phone to her missus, who was driving through the fire with their two children, so I just kept coming back to the truck to support her.” The partner was told to go to the CFA station and after that the firefighter was able to concentrate on her work.
MsHill knew her own three children were off the mountain. She hopes she never has to choose between her CFA duty and them.
As it was, when her tanker passed by her house that night and she saw it was alight, “We didn’t have time to stop.”
The only things she has left are the fired ceramics that she had made. Fellow firefighter Ben Hutchinson drops to his knees in what used to be her living room and starts lifting shattered mud bricks. She hasbeen fretting for her dog and that’s where they think it might be.
Mr Hutchinson is camping out on friends’ floors. He thought the big clear space in front of his house would protect it. He was out of luck. Even his fire extinguisher exploded.
All of them talk about how lucky they are. They have seen what happened to others; Kinglake firefighters were the first to walk into many burnt-out homes whose owners hadn’t made it.
Country firefighters don’t usually worry about formal stuff, but last week the Kinglake brigade was measured for dress uniforms. There will be a lot of funerals to go to, and they want to have a brigade representative at every one.First published in The Age