Red, white and phew … Robina Otrupcek and her daughter Felicity Bibb in front of the house they built 16 years ago. The house survived the firestorm. Not so lucky …David Kierle surveys his lost property
Hayhill is a house that sits on the now infamous Timor Road which leads tourists to the Siding Spring Observatory on Mount Woorut, with its unimpeded views of the night sky.
Today, it sits there still, miraculously, despite the raging bushfire that this week engulfed 51 properties in the state’s worst blazes in more than a decade.
The road winds west out of Coonabarabran, the self-styled astronomy capital of Australia.
When the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was escorted along the highway through the blackened woodlands of the Warrumbungle Ranges she maintained the celestial association, describing it as ”a moonscape”.
The road is the epicentre of the fire where in less than a couple of hours on the afternoon of Sunday, January 13, more than 30 homes were lost.
But not Hayhill.
Its 7000 bricks were laid by owner Robina Otrupcek, 68, and daughter Felicity Bibb, 33, in 1997.
It was handy for her work – she is an astronomer and the first woman in the southern hemisphere to be in charge of a radio telescope – you can see the Mopra Telescope from the balcony. She is also a psychologist with the Aboriginal Medical Service.
Ms Otrupcek said: ”I knew there was a fire because in church in the morning I sat next to a woman whose husband is a firefighter. He wasn’t there and she said ‘There’s a little fire up there’.” At 3pm with the smoke starting to thicken, Ms Otrupcek had a shower and read a book. A neighbour called and asked if she was going to leave to go into town.
”It’s strange what you pack in a situation like that. I put some things in a bag. My academic gown, my mother’s pearls, my Girl Guide badges, my passport and my four best outfits.”
On Monday she attended a doctor’s appointment and the receptionist, the mother of a neighbour, told her the house was OK. ”We jumped up and down in the waiting room. Then I had to go in and get my blood pressure taken. It was just a little bit up.”
She believes the red-and-white property stood out, which is why it was water bombed. The ground is burnt on all four sides. She added: ”The cable to the water pump has melted and the septic tank has melted but that’s all. Inside it is as though it hasn’t been touched. It doesn’t smell of smoke and the geranium on the balcony has a new green sprout on it.”
David and Dawn Keirle, both Rural Fire Service volunteers who live 300 metres further up Timor Road, received a text at 4.02pm on Sunday which read: ”EMERGENCY BUSH FIRE WARNING FROM RFS – LEAVE NOW …” The same message was sent again at 4.07pm.
Mrs Keirle was aware there was fire in the area – she had been fighting a fire at Wambelong Creek campsite about 18 kilometres west on the Timor Road the day before.
Mr Keirle, 57, said: ”It was coming up the ridge. You could see the visitors’ area at the Warrumbungle National Park, it hadn’t reached there.
”At 1pm it had gone over that ridge, through the valley and up another ridge. It was about 10 kilometres away. We left it to them and decided to have a sleep at about 1.30 because we knew we would have to do the night shift.
”We fed the sheep at 2.30 ready to go, then the smoke was getting really thick. It was obviously getting serious and probably out of control. About 4pm that’s when we got the first text to evacuate. It was about two or three kilometres away.
”You could see it in the rear view mirror leaping from hill to hill. The wind was really strong. When I drove past [our property] it was all intact. I honestly just thought I might lose my sheep but not the property.”
It wasn’t until he returned after the fire front had passed at 10pm to discover the ruins of their property. The sheep and one llama were unscathed.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.