THEY died on Black Saturday trying to save things they loved. For Arthur Enver, it was his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. For Robert Pierce, and for Reg Evans and Angela Brunton, it was their homes. For Raye Carter, it was her goats.
The Bushfires Royal Commission yesterday conducted inquiries into the deaths of five residents of St Andrews killed by the Kilmore East fire that started 40 kilometres from where they lived. It hit St Andrews with such speed that those who died had no time to save themselves.
“One minute it was clear and the next there were flames everywhere. I don’t know where the fire came from,” Petra Boumans, Mr Enver’s partner, later told police.
They decided to flee but he wouldn’t get in the the car with her because he wanted to save his Harley.
As she left, he was hunting for the keys to his motorbike. She drove through heat so fierce that her car’s foglights exploded, and she had to drive over a fallen tree across the road. But she escaped.
Mr Enver, 56, was last seen alive by a passerby who reported he dropped his bike on the Kinglake-Heidelberg Road and ran. His body was found 400 metres from the bike by a CFA volunteer who saw him face down with his helmet alight.
A fire investigator concluded he might have been forced off the road into gravel by smoke or high winds, or perhaps his bike developed fuel failure.
Actor Reg Evans, 80, had elaborate plans to save the home he shared in Bald Spur Road with Angela Brunton, 48. He told a worried neighbour that afternoon, “It’s sweet, mate.” But he and his partner died, apparently trying to shelter under a dining table.
Fire investigator John Kelleher reported that their home’s A-frame construction made it more susceptible to wind damage and ember attack, and the loss of the roof contributed to their deaths. He said they had no back-up plan if sheltering inside the house failed.
Robert Pierce, 62, and his son Nicolas fought the fire at separate houses on the same property on Bald Spur Road. Nicolas Pierce told police: “I told Robert we had three or four hours to live or die . . . We shook hands and wished one another good luck.
“He was calm and appeared well-prepared . . . He almost appeared excited and relieved that the fire was finally coming after years of apprehension.”
Nicolas survived and saved one house, despite winds he estimated at up to 150 kilometres an hour and a fire front that lasted two hours. His father was later found dead near the entrance to a “safe room”.
Faye Carter, 68, was checking on her beloved dairy goats during an ember attack while her husband Alan took their dogs into the house.
Mr Carter told police: “I saw the fireball hit our front gate . . . and come straight up the drive like a car . . . Before I had time to react, the fireball hit our house, hit the cane setting at the front of the house, and then the roof exploded into a ball of flame.”
Mr Carter could not find his wife of 48 years and was badly burned. He drove down to his dam and jumped into the water to ease his pain before driving back to search for her again but was defeated by the heat.
He later spent five weeks in hospital having skin grafts to his arms and legs.
Mr Kelleher concluded that Mrs Carter died near the verandah. A large part of the roof had hit her nearby car, possibly also striking her and definitely destroying in one blow both her chances at survival: sheltering inside the house or escaping in the vehicle.