Kangaroo Island fire causes utter devastation, claims lives of two valiant farm firefighters

Western Districts Football Club president Tony Nolan surveys the damage caused by the Kangaroo Island fire on Saturday afternoon and remained stoic.
Western Districts Football Club president Tony Nolan surveys the damage caused by the Kangaroo Island fire on Saturday afternoon and remained stoic.

The Kangaroo Island fire has wreaked utter devastation on the entire western end of the Island, taking two lives.

The victims have been named as pioneering bush pilot 'Desert Dick' Lang, 78, and his youngest son Clayton Lang, 43, one of Adelaide's leading plastic and reconstructive surgeons.

Dick and Clayton were in the process of returning to the family property after fighting a nearby fire for two days as one of the many valiant farm firefighting units that have saved so much on KI over the past two weeks.

The family has released a statement, which can be read below.

Police broke the news that two people had died on the Playford Highway west of Parndana, causing a gasp among the hundreds gathered in the Kingscote Town Hall.

There was then audible sobbing as the news sunk in among the crowd, many whom had lost everything. A minute of silence was held at the end of the meeting in the victims' honour.

One person died in the vehicle, while the other was found some distance away on the highway. The vehicle appeared to towing a trailer with firefighting equipment.

Many farm houses and structures, lodges, campgrounds and buildings, including the Flinders Chase National Park, have been wiped out.

The Islander visited the Playford Highway west of Parndana with the CFS, the day after the fire ripped through the island, on Friday, January 3.

Dead stock and wildlife and burned cars lined either side of the highway, while out in the paddocks badly burned sheep and cattle, as well as kangaroos and wallabies stood awaiting their fate.

Multiple farm houses and sheds were flattened as surrounding trees stood burned black, still smouldering.

Just down the highway from where two people died was a badly damaged prime hauler that came to standstill, reportedly while trying to get stock out of the area.

The trip terminated at the Western Districts football oval where the community club was a burned-out shell. The football rooms across the oval were still standing.

Wonks president interviewed

Western Districts Football Club president Tony Nolan was surveying the damage and remained stoic.

"The Saints will keep marching," he said. "We will rebuild, we need the club as our hub. There are so many devastated families out there."

Further back up the highway, Josh Deer was at the burned out house he rents with his partner Lucy Cooper.

He thanked the community for their support and said the community would rebuild.

Their business, The Rockpool Cafe at Stokes Bay, last he checked was still standing but the fire was still impacting on the north coast around that very area.

Total area impacted on by the Kangaroo Island fire.

Total area impacted on by the Kangaroo Island fire.

The south coast of Kangaroo Island is equally as devastated, along the entire length from west of Vivonne Bay all the way into Flinders Chase National Park, where the visitor centre and so many amenities vital to the Island's tourism economy have been destroyed.

To the east of the park there are reports that the caravan park, multiple lodges and possibly other structures and houses had been lost too.

What remains of Southern Ocean Lodge.

What remains of Southern Ocean Lodge.

Images have emerged of the burned shell of the prestigious Southern Ocean Lodge, and its owners have made a statement about the loss, included further below.

CFS efforts continue on the active fire, particularly on the north coast after the new Ravine fire merged with the two-week old, largely contained, Duncan fire.

Both were sparked by dry lightning, that caused numerous other fires whgich have been since contained.

The fire reached a crescendo on Friday night when at 9pm the decision was made to evacuate the CFS emergency services coordinating personnel and the KI base to Kingscote.

As the fire approached Parndana, the town's residents and visitors were urged to leave to safety in Kingscote.

The Kingscote football oval became the makeshift home of displaced visitors and locals, where community efforts were being made to look after visitors before they can be evacuated by ferry to the mainland.

SA Water is advising residents across the Island to conserve water while supply issues are sorted.

The community meeting on Saturday morning, January 4, saw Mayor Michael Pengilly and various officials brief the community on the ongoing firefighting effort and also the recovery process.

Along with CFS volunteers, firefighters from National Parks and Forestry and about 70 farm fire units that have worked tirelessly without a break were recognised.

Kangaroo Island will take months and years to recover from the fire, which has now burned some 170,000 hectares, between a quarter and a third of the Island.

Anyone wanting to assist is urged to donate to please donate to the KI Mayoral Fund at: BSB 105 094 ACCT 035680540

Statement from the Lang family

We are devastated to have lost two beloved members of our family - Dick Lang and his youngest son Clayton Lang - in such terrible circumstances.

Dick and Clayton were in the process of returning to the family property on Kangaroo Island after fighting a nearby fire for two days.

Dick and Clayton were prominent members of the South Australian community who rose to the top in their chosen professions.

'Desert Dick' Lang, 78, was a pioneering bush pilot and safari operator who opened up the outback to countless travellers from Australia and overseas. He first offered 4WD adventures in 1965, later adding aircraft trips to all corners of Australia and other countries, from Papua New Guinea to Africa.

He loved the bush, he loved adventure and he loved Kangaroo Island.

Clayton, 43, was one of Adelaide's leading plastic and reconstructive surgeons, specialising in hand surgery. He was supervisor of surgical training and clinical lead of hand surgery at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He also consulted privately.

Dick was married to his beloved wife Helen for more than 55 years, having met her in 1959. They have four sons - Derek, Justin, Lachlan and Clayton - and seven grandchildren - Zac, Andre, Rose, Jasmine, Carlie; and Clayton's daughters with Christie, Sophia and Madeline.

Helen and the family are heartbroken and reeling from this double tragedy and are touched by people's thoughts at this difficult time.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the CFS volunteers, police and members of the Kangaroo Island community who are doing so much to help all those on the Island affected by these catastrophic fires.

The family will not be making any further comments at this time and requests that the media respect their privacy.

Residents must conserve water

Kangaroo Island residents and visitors are asked to limit non-essential drinking water use, following indicators the bushfires have impacted the Middle River Water Treatment Plant and pumping operations that supply drinking water to our customers in Kingscote, Parndana and surrounding areas.

While the Penneshaw Desalination Plant and supply network is currently unaffected and operating normally, customers in this area should also limit non-essential drinking water use so this network can be used to supplement Kingscote if required.

As soon as it is safe to do so, CFS personnel will escort SA Water staff to inspect the state of the Middle River water supply network infrastructure to assess any damage and begin planning the work required to restore operations.

SA Water General Manager Asset Operations and Delivery Mark Gobbie said their people will work as quickly and safely as possible.

"Our priority is maintaining water supply for the Island's residents and visitors, but we must keep our people safe and ensure we don't slow down the important work of the CFS," said Mark.

"Deferring non-essential activities such as washing laundry and cars or watering lawns, will help preserve the water storage levels in both the Kingscote and Penneshaw networks to ensure it is available for drinking and responding to small spot fires.

"We're planning interim arrangements to maintain and supplement drinking water supplies and will share details of how to access them once they are in place."

Kangaroo Island residents should visit sawater.com.au or follow SA Water on Facebook and Twitter for updates on services, and anyone in urgent need of assistance should call 1300 SA WATER.

SeaLink statement

SeaLink continues to work with the CFS, SAPOL, emergency services and community groups in response to the current bushfires on Kangaroo Island.

SAPOL is asking people intending to travel to Kangaroo Island to reconsider their plans in light of the bushfires, and the CFS is operating a service desk at our Cape Jervis terminal to provide information about conditions on the Island.

Anyone with an existing ticket can access a full refund and can call 13 13 01.

Conditions are changing daily and we will provide updates as emergency services provide us with advice regarding travel to the Island.

The 200-300 people on the Island in the relief centre at Kingscote have had their travel arrangements confirmed and will return to the mainland over the next two days.

SeaLink continues to work with authorities and anyone requiring assistance should go to the relief centre at Kingscote Football Club, Centenary Avenue, Kingscote.

We have added additional ferry services to run today and tomorrow (Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th January) and will run a total of 14 return services today. This is the largest number of services SeaLink has offered in a single day. For information about ferry timetables and availability visit sealink.com.au or phone 13 13 01.

Our hearts go out to all those who have been impacted by the bushfires, including our own employees, and we acknowledge the dedication, efforts and bravery of firefighters and emergency services personnel.

We also thank all SeaLink employees who are working hard to support our customers and the community during this difficult time.

These bushfires have been devastating for everyone on Kangaroo Island and SeaLink is committed to supporting the local community in its recovery.

How to help wildlife

Koalas and other wildlife affected by bushfires on Kangaroo Island must be managed locally and not removed from the island.

Department for Environment and Water bushfire recovery coordinator Brenton Grear said it was particularly important that the island's koalas - which make up the only population in South Australia free of chlamydia - remain disease-free.

"We've received reports that some koalas from Kangaroo Island have been taken to Adelaide by people who want to get help for them," he said.

"It's understandable and heartening that people want to rescue these animals, but unfortunately it will mean that those koalas can't be returned to the island because of the risk of contamination of the population there."

Chlamydia in koalas can cause blindness, bladder inflammation, infertility and death. As the island's koalas are isolated and free of the disease, its introduction would devastate the population.

Because of the size of the fires burning on the island, it is too soon to know how many animals have been affected.

"South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) has been activated to manage the wildlife rescue effort and is working with other groups in fire-affected regions," Mr Grear said.

"We ask that anyone on Kangaroo Island who finds injured wildlife call SAVEM on 0477 055 233 or email info@savem.org.au.

"The work of wildlife rescue volunteers across the state is greatly appreciated, and SAVEM will coordinate assistance for animals affected by the fires on Kangaroo Island."

Southern Ocean Lodge statement

Baillie Lodges regrets to advise that Southern Ocean Lodge on South Australia's Kangaroo Island has sustained significant damage by bushfire during the afternoon of Friday January 3, 2020.

All guests and most lodge staff were evacuated to Kingscote and Adelaide earlier on Friday before the threat intensified.

A small team of six senior staff members remained onsite to monitor the situation and activate the lodge's fire emergency plan.

Whilst the lodge has sustained structural damage, all guests and staff have been safely evacuated and no injuries have been sustained.

Baillie Lodges would like to thank Lodge Managers John Hird and Alison Heath and their team for their outstanding dedication in this crisis and for successfully managing this very difficult situation.

Southern Ocean Lodge is now closed. It is currently too early to accurately estimate a reopening date. The Southern Ocean Lodge team will embark on contacting guests as well as travel industry partners over the coming days to make alternative arrangements for upcoming reservations.

Baillie Lodges founders and co-creators of Southern Ocean Lodge James and Hayley Baillie said initial plans were already at hand to rebuild the award-winning luxury lodge.

"We are absolutely shocked and saddened by today's events," Mr and Mrs Baillie said.

"A bushfire incident such as this is really our worst nightmare come true.

"In the short to medium term we would like to take the lead in rebuilding the Kangaroo Island tourism industry.

"As much as possible we would like to contribute to the economic and social recovery of the broader Kangaroo Island community, which has really been such a genuine part of the lodge's resonance for both our Australian and international guests.

"Our immediate priority is to the wellbeing of our guests and staff, an overarching aim which we are relieved to report has been achieved today."


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