Close call for homeowners

Headshot of Shannon Smith
Shannon SmithAlbany Advertiser
Doug Stan-Bishop lost his shed and ute in the blaze. INSET: The fire came within meters of Caitlin and Josh Mead’s home.
Camera IconDoug Stan-Bishop lost his shed and ute in the blaze. INSET: The fire came within meters of Caitlin and Josh Mead’s home. Credit: Shannon Smith

A Porongurup couple had only been in their new home for four days when it almost burnt down in front of their eyes.

Volunteer fire crews saved two homes in the pre-dawn blaze which destroyed a shed and a vehicle inside it on Thursday.

Just before 5am, Caitlin and Josh Mead woke to howling wind and looked outside to see a red glow surrounding their house.

They had only met and exchanged numbers with their neighbours in recent days and were sleeping in their caravan because their furniture was yet to arrive.

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Mrs Mead said they ran into their new house to call their neighbours and then 000, got dressed and fled in their ute.

“We watched down the road and we couldn’t see the house for three hours because of the flames and smoke,” she said.

“We thought it was gone until we drove up the driveway again — we were surprised it was still here.

“Luckily once it had mostly gone through our place, our neighbour Frank and one other volunteer came back in with us and the wood pile was still on fire, a stump right next to our house and one of the ramps going up to the shed was on fire.

“So we were lucky to be able to come in and put that out and save the house and the shed because I think otherwise they would have gone. The flames were so high and it was so windy. .”

The fire started where a neighbour — a volunteer firefighter — had been burning bush roughly three weeks earlier

Heading in a southerly direction, the fire tore through the Meads’ property and jumped over Yellanup Road towards the home’s neighbouring farmer and truck driver Doug Stan-Bishop.

The blaze destroyed his garage and a ute inside it, as well as more than 1km of boundary fencing.

He woke to a call from a neighbour at 5am and the first thing he noticed was the smell of smoke.

“All the bush in front of the house was on fire and it was in the tops of the trees — it was like daylight,” he said.

“The fire has burnt a foot under the fence around the house. I can’t believe this house is standing today.

“I went outside with my fire unit and ute, and I thought I would sit alongside the house and watch it but I only had a narrow entrance to get out.

“I got into my ute and I just headed straight out to the road because I could see the fire truck there. They came in here and stayed in there for 15 minutes and drove out.

“I thought that was because the house had gone.”

South Porongurup Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade deputy fire chief officer Jim Bailey was one of the first to attend the fire.

He said several crews attended the fire, fighting from 4am until midnight — almost 20 hours.

“It started at a property where the owner had been doing the right things and cleaned up his bush three weeks ago,” he said.

“He had been keeping an eye on everything and he is a very responsible member of the brigade.

“We are estimating it started around 3:45am or 4am when the winds were extreme. I was called out 4:10am when a local person called me.”

From there, he said the flames moved very rapidly towards the Meads’ property.

“By 5am we started to get a couple of fire crews here and it was starting to cross Yellanup Road,” he said.

“We didn’t know Josh and Caitlin had moved in — we thought the house was vacant.

“There wasn’t a great deal apart from saving houses at that stage that we were able to do.

“The fire was moving so rapidly we could only contain it from the flanks but as the day wore on we managed to contain it. To put it plainly, we dodged a bullet.”

The fire did not trigger an emergency warning on the Statewide alert system. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services was looking into the communication processes related to the fire as this newspaper went to print.

Mr Bailey said the fire burnt through about 550ha.

A fire came meters from Caitlin and Josh Mead's home
Camera IconA fire came meters from Caitlin and Josh Mead's home Credit: Shannon Smith

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