Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Eyewitness: Australia's fire tragedy

Aftermath of wildfires in Kinglake, 08/02
Little was left intact after the fires hit Kinglake

As the scale of the disaster Australia's bush fires have caused becomes clear, tragic stories of individuals caught in the flames are beginning to emerge.

Schoolteacher Margaret Atsi, whose home was in the township of Kinglake East north of Melbourne, told the BBC how she lost everything - but still considers herself lucky.

I am pretty certain my house has gone - I have spoken to my neighbours and their house has gone.

They were trapped in the fire, but managed to escape. It was such a relief to hear their voices. They have told me they can only see charred remains where my house stood. I've owned it for 20 years and have just recently moved back into it and renovated it. Everything I owned has gone. Driver's licence, birth certificate. Everything.

Margaret Atsi
The fire came so quickly there was not time for everyone to evacuate

The community is a very close one. People I know have lost parents and children, everything has been wiped out. I feel devastated, numb and traumatised. I also feel I was one of the lucky ones, by chance my family and I weren't at home when the fire came.

I was at my sister's house in Eltham and my two sons, who are four and 21, were with me.

I was on my way home to Kinglake when police closed the road due to the approaching fire. There had been no sign there was a fire close by - the nearest was 80km away across the mountain, but it was moving so fast it managed to travel that distance in 30 minutes.

The police closed the road, but we couldn't go back the way we came as the wind was blowing the embers off the mountain and down the valley, so spots of fires were happening everywhere which meant the road back to my sister's house also became blocked by fire.

We were taken to the local relief centre. Thousands of people were already there. Although they had almost no warning the relief centre was well prepared with tea and sandwiches. I had to wait there with my children for four hours. All the time we knew that the mountain all around us was on fire.

When we left the relief centre we had a police escort. The fence posts on either side of the road we were travelling on were on fire. We drove back just praying for everyone at Kinglake.

The fire came so quickly there was not time for everyone to evacuate, which is why people died on the roads, in their cars and in their houses.

On the television, lots of contact numbers are given out all day for people to call, but there are so many people affected it's almost impossible to get through on the phone, so I had to drive to my local area's relief centre to register and to let them know I was safe. I was given a relief cheque for A$1,000.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific