KI Connect ferry service owner and farmer friends survive a firestorm in the Kangaroo Island bushfire

Kangaroo Island resident and operator of the KI Connect ferry, David Harris has given an amazing account of how he survived the firestorm that resulted from Friday's devastating bushfire.

The fire ended up destroying the house, sheds and 8000 stock of his friend's property on Mount Taylor Road in the Gosse area on the western end on the afternoon of Friday, January 3.

Mr Harris, his farming friend Bill Buttrose and Bill's partner Marg survived the ordeal and despite obviously shaken to the core are remaining positive.

The view 34 minutes before the fire hit. Calm with some smoke then an explosive fireball.

The view 34 minutes before the fire hit. Calm with some smoke then an explosive fireball.

He headed out to Gosse on Friday afternoon to help his friend Bill move sheep when the situation with the fire in Flinders Chase National Park was deteriorating.

The fire at that stage was about 40 to 50 kilometres away and there was no sense of urgency.

The fire moved and they could see smoke but it was "miles and miles" away. The smoke column was impressive and looked to be as high up as 20,000 feet.

They then became concerned and went around the farm to make sure they had a route out. Then the fire front reached the property and one side of the farmhouse started burning.

The view from inside Bill Buttrose's house as the firestorm hits.

The view from inside Bill Buttrose's house as the firestorm hits.

They raced back into the house and watched through the window as the firestorm moved over the house and property.

He said estimated the winds were at least 50 knots and temperatures felt like 300 degrees.

They then put on woolen clothing, doused themselves with water from the fridge and waited until it was safe to leave.

Then one of Bill's workers arrived in a ute and they piled in, drove through a fence and raced off into a nearby clear burned paddock where they waited for about half and hour, watching the house burn down.

The house burned as they watched.

The house burned as they watched.

Mr Harris and his friends were able to evacuate safely away from the fireground later that evening.

And he returned to his Kangaroo Island home at American River where his ferry is still moored.

The destroyed farmhouse at Mount Taylor Road after the fire.

The destroyed farmhouse at Mount Taylor Road after the fire.

Meanwhile back out on the western end, Mr Harris said his friends and the community are already thinking about rebuilding.

"Message from the front is just how efficiently the stock are being dealt with," Mr Harris said. "Morale is good, equipment and people everywhere, no one is in charge but it's all just happening quietly and efficiently.

"SA Power Networks, SA Water, Telstra all putting in a great effort as well. The Island is going to be okay.

"Bill is very positive he is going to build a great new house and the best sheds and get some good gear.

There was a huge clean up on the property Saturday, Sunday and Monday. About 8000 sheep buried. Country people are tough. KI is going to be okay."

CONNECT FERRY: The KI Connect ferry James Cowell at the American River wharf.

CONNECT FERRY: The KI Connect ferry James Cowell at the American River wharf.

Mr Harris has expressed frustration that his ferry was offered to be in use for logistics and recovery, but his offer of help had not been taken up.

Even though the scheduled cruise ships to Kangaroo Island had been cancelled, he said he had not been given permission by the Department of Transport, Planning and Infrastructure to use the Penneshaw jetty.

He said the regulations prevented the KI Connect ferry from using Penneshaw if a cruise ship was booked to arrive, even it cancels.

He expressed his frustration at dealing with the State Government over multiple issues regarding his new ferry service and was at his wit's end.

The ferry James Cowell at the height of the crises on Friday night was at its mooring at American River ready to evacuate local residents as needed.

There was some general confusion among the residents and visitors at American River that night, with reports on social media that everyone should evacuate.

There was however no official direction to evacuate and while the entire eastern of the Island did reach Watch and Act at one stage, the Emergency area never extended that far.

Comments