WATCHING the TV forecast of extreme fire danger the night before Black Saturday, Jillian Kane told her partner: “It’s a bit scary. Someone watching the news right now will be the news on Monday.”
She did not know that her brother would be one of those people. She did not think bushfire warnings applied to residents of the outer suburbs of Bendigo, where he lived.
Her brother, Mick Kane, had had two brain aneurisms in his youth and had developed schizophrenia, seizures and a weakened left leg, she told the commission yesterday.
He walked rarely and unsteadily, his leg stiffened by a brace.
That day, Jillian Kane and her partner were returning from a swim when they saw a large black cloud of smoke. They drove towards it, wondering.
They realised it was over her brother’s street. They were calm, assuming that if the fire was close, the houses would have been evacuated.
She was appalled to see her sister-in-law’s car still in the driveway as flames roared 15metres into the air from behind the roof of the carport. “A split second later I could see a dark figure on the ground, which I knew was my brother,” she said. “I couldn’t see his face, but I knew by the shape.”
He had fallen just near the passenger side of the car, and his wife of 24 years, Carol, was moving towards him.
Jillian Kane and her partner, Michael Ryan, leaped out of the car. Mr Ryan got Mr Kane to his feet and told Mrs Kane to get in the car and go.
But Mr Ryan was wearing only swimming shorts. “The fire changed direction and the flames seemed to turn straight back around and come towards us,” Ms Kane said.
“I just remember hearing him yell out in pain, ‘It’s too hot’, and he must have thrown his hands into the air and was unable to continue holding on to my brother.
“The flames overtook (my brother) and he cried out and my partner tried to go to the car and get a wet towel to go back and try and help, but he couldn’t. It was too late. The fire had turned and come straight back over the top of him.”
First published in The Age.